Chinese President Xi Jinping is all set for an unprecedented third five-year term as the key Congress of the ruling Communist party on Saturday cemented his power further, edging out several senior leaders, including moderate number two leader Premier Li Keqiang in a major shake-up at the top.
Xi, 69, who was elected to the powerful Central Committee by Congress despite crossing the official retirement age of 68 and completing 10-year tenure, will get re-elected as the General Secretary of the party on Sunday for a record third-term – a privilege only accorded to party founder Mao Zedong.
The once-in-a-five-year Congress concluded its week-long session on Saturday by electing 205 regular Central Committee members and 171 alternate members.
Xi was elected to the Central Committee, which will meet on Sunday to elect a 25-member Political Bureau which in turn will choose seven or more members to the Standing Committee to govern the country.
The Standing Committee in turn will elect the General Secretary, who heads the party and the country. After the election of the Standing Committee on Sunday, Xi along with the new team is due to appear before the media who are kept in a closed-loop COVID quarantine in a hotel here.
While Xi further consolidated his power with many of his own associates, making it to the Central Committee, several senior leaders were edged out.
Several names, especially that of 67-year-old Premier Li, the nation's No. 2 official; National People's Congress chairman Li Zhanshu, 72; Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Wang Yang, 67; and Vice-Premier Han Zheng, 68, were conspicuously missing from the Central Committee list.
They are all part of the outgoing seven-member Standing Committee headed by Xi.
Both Li and Wang are regarded as moderates. Li, who steered the Chinese economy for the past ten years and appeared at unease over Xi's emergence of “core leader” on par with Mao, had already announced his decision to quit as Premier early this year.
He chose to retire, though he is one year short of the official retirement age of 68 set by the party.
Among the other notables, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, 69, was elected to the Central Committee despite crossing the retirement age as he has emerged as a close confidant of Xi on foreign policy issues and expected to make it to the Political Bureau on Sunday.
His senior colleague and former foreign minister Yang Jiechi, who was also state councillor, did not make it to the Central Committee.
Besides being the foreign minister, Wang is also the special representative on border talks with India along with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
While China may have a new foreign minister due to his elevation, it is to be seen whether he will remain as special representative of the India-China Boundary mechanism.
On the last day, the Congress briefly witnessed an embarrassing scene as former president Hu Jintao, 79, was escorted out of the podium.
Hu, who handed over the power to Xi in 2012 in a smooth transition after completing a 10-year tenure, appeared reluctant to leave but was escorted out by his aides. There is no explanation here about what happened.
A different central administration headed by the new premier will formally take place in March.
The party Congress also approved an amendment of the party Constitution on Saturday that could further enhance Xi's stature as China's leader.
Xi, in his brief closing remarks, said the revision of the Constitution sets out clear requirements for upholding and strengthening the party's overall leadership.
"Dare to struggle, dare to win, bury your heads and work hard. Be determined to keep forging ahead," he said while addressing the concluding session of the Congress.
"We must be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms," he said.
"Confronted with drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, (and) blockade... China, we have put our national interests first," he said, apparently referring to the growing negativity against China in the US and West.
The CPC Congress has realised its goals of unifying thinking, fortifying confidence, charting the course, and boosting morale, Xi told 2,338 delegates, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The Congress also appointed a new team of anti-corruption wing of the party called the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which directly functions under Xi.
According to official reports, CCDI punished about five million officials, including many top army generals, in the last 10 years.
Critics say Xi’s shock and awe campaign helped him to consolidate his hold on power.
Resolutions passed at the Congress eulogised Xi and his ideas, merging Marxism with Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
A resolution on an amendment to the Constitution of the CPC adopted at the Congress said all party members should follow Xi’s leadership.
“The Congress calls on party organisations at all levels and all party members to follow the firm leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” it said.
"Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the Marxism of contemporary China and of the 21st Century and embodies the best Chinese culture and ethos of this era," it said.
Another lengthy resolution on the work of the previous Congress said, “the Congress stresses that Marxism is the fundamental guiding ideology upon which our Party and our country are founded and thrive.”
It also laid out guidelines for the Chinese military.
“The Congress stresses that achieving the goals for the centenary of the People's Liberation Army in 2027 and more quickly elevating our people's armed forces to world-class standards are strategic tasks for building a modern socialist country in all respects,” it said
“The Congress calls on the whole Party, the entire military, and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to stay closely rallied around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, to keep in mind that empty talk will do nothing for our country and only solid work will make it flourish," it said.
Praising efforts to control the COVID-19, the resolution also affirmed firm opposition to Taiwan’s independence. China claims Taiwan as part of its mainland.
“We should take resolute steps to oppose 'Taiwan's independence' and promote reunification, maintain the initiative and the ability to steer in cross-Strait relations, and unswervingly advance the cause of national reunification," it said.
Ahead of the 20th Congress, Beijing witnessed rare public protests with banners hung on overpasses of major thoroughfares, protesting against Xi's unpopular zero-COVID policy and authoritarian rule.
Banners displayed on a bridge in the district of Haidian, home to universities and tech firms in Beijing, had slogans: food, not COVID test; reform, not a cultural revolution; freedom, not lockdowns; votes, not a leader; dignity, not lies; citizens, not slaves.
Battery-operated loudspeakers were hung in some places blaring anti-Xi and anti-Zero COVID slogans.
Police quickly moved to remove the banners and loudspeakers. Similar reports of protests came from different cities of China.
After the appearance of the banners, security was further tightened in Beijing with the deployment of police on most of the city's bridges and underpasses.