BEIJING (Reuters) – Xi Jinping secured a precedent-breaking third term as China’s president on Friday during a parliamentary session during which he tightened his grip on the world’s second-largest economy as he emerges from a COVID-19 recession and diplomatic challenges. multiply.
Nearly 3,000 members of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, voted unanimously in the Great Hall of the People for the 69-year-old Xi in an election in which there was no other candidate.
Xi has taken China on a more authoritarian path since taking control a decade ago, extending his term in office for another five years amid increasingly hostile relations with the United States and its allies over Taiwan, and Beijing’s support for Russia, trade and human rights.
Domestically, China faces a difficult recovery after three years of Xi’s zero-COVID policy, fragile confidence between consumers and businesses, and weak demand for China’s exports.
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The economy grew just 3% last year, among its worst performances in decades. During the Parliament session, the government set a modest growth target for this year of just 5%.
“In his third term, Xi will need to focus on economic recovery,” said Willie Lamm, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank.
“But if he continues with what he has been doing – tightening party and state control over the private sector and confrontation with the West, his prospects for success will not be encouraging.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Xi on his third term. The two forged a “borderless” partnership between China and Russia in February last year, days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Xi paved the way for another term when he abolished presidential term limits in 2018, becoming China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic of China.
The presidency is largely ceremonial, and the chief’s position of power was extended last October when he was reappointed for another five-year term as general secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee.
White House spokesman John Kirby said that US President Joe Biden remained in Washington focused on managing the strategic competition with China. “It certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone here that Xi’s third term would come as a surprise,” Kirby said. “This was all highly anticipated.”
New leadership list
During Friday’s vote, Xi held talks with prime minister-in-waiting Li Qiang, who is set to be confirmed Saturday in China’s second-highest position, a role that puts the former Shanghai party chief and Xi’s ally in charge of the economy.
Other Xi-approved officials are scheduled to be elected or appointed to government posts over the weekend, including vice prime ministers, a central bank governor and several other ministers and department heads.
The annual parliamentary session, the first since China dropped coronavirus restrictions in three years, will conclude on Monday, when Xi will deliver a speech followed by Li’s media question-and-answer session.
During Friday’s session, Xi and dozens of other top leaders on stage did not wear masks but everyone in the auditorium did.
China ended its coronavirus-free policy in December after highly unusual nationwide protests against restrictions that stifled daily life and the economy.
The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, then quickly spread to infect most of its 1.4 billion people, but authorities have yet to release a full tally of related deaths.
On Friday, parliament also elected Zhao Liji, 66, as speaker and Han Zheng, 68, as vice-chairman. The two men were from Xi’s former team of party leaders on the Politburo Standing Committee.
(Reporting by Yi Lun Tian), Additional reporting by Doina Chiacou in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Tony Monroe, Robert Purcell, and Raisa Kasolowski
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