BEIJING — China has put the finishing touches on a sweeping leadership reshuffle that has been years in the making and puts trusted allies of leader Xi Jinping in key spots throughout the administration.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, approved personnel changes in the government that are largely seen as having been orchestrated by Xi, who has become the country's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Here are some of the key players.
Li Qiang — Premier
Li was Xi's chief-of-staff when Xi was in charge of Zhejiang province in the mid-2000s. He went on to become governor of Zhejiang, and Communist Party boss of neighboring Jiangsu province and Shanghai, before being appointed premier. While working in the region known as Yangtze River Delta, Li championed entrepreneurship and private business. But in implementing the chaotic and unpopular Shanghai COVID lockdown last spring, he demonstrated another side of who he is: a loyal follower of Xi Jinping, regardless of the cost. Li is the first premier to be given the job without serving a day as vice premier since Zhou Enlai, the first person to hold the position after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Li ranks second in the party hierarchy.
Ding Xuexiang — Executive vice-premier
As head of the party's General Office, effectively Xi's chief-of-staff, Ding has been a crucial part of Xi's inner circle for the past few years. He often can be seen with Xi in photos and in reports on the leader's activities. Ding's career was built in Shanghai, and when Xi was there on a brief stint as party chief in 2007, Ding was his secretary. In his new role, Ding is expected to help oversee the economy. Ding is sixth in the party hierarchy.
He Lifeng — Vice premier
He Lifeng is expected to be the point man for China's interactions with the United States on trade and investment. He replaces the urbane Liu He. In recent years, He has been in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is China's state economic planning agency. His ties to Xi go back to the 1980s and '90s when both men were working in coastal Fujian province. He is a member of the party's 24-member Politburo.
Han Zheng — Vice president
Han is a bit of an outlier in the new lineup because analysts say he is not a pure Xi ally. Han has deep roots in Shanghai, were late leader Jiang Zemin's faction was based. By all accounts, though, Han managed to please Xi as vice premier overseeing Hong Kong affairs during a turbulent time for the former British colony. In October, the 68-year-old retired from the group at the top of the party hierarchy, the Politburo Standing Committee, due to his age, and to make way for Xi's men.
Wang Huning — Head of parliament's political advisory body
Wang is a political theorist and former academic who has conservative and strongly nationalistic views that analysts say jibe with — and have likely influenced — Xi's own preferences. In 1991 he published a book after visiting the United States entitled "America Against America" that explored U.S. political divisions and polarization, and underpins the case for China to reject Western influences. Wang has served successive Chinese leaders, and managed to please them all. Wang's predecessor as head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (a toothless but highly visible advisory body that meets in parallel with parliament) played a key role in policy on ethnic minorities, including in the the Xinjiang region. Wang holds the number four spot in the party lineup.
Zhao Leji — Head of the National People's Congress
Zhao ranks third in the party hierarchy. For the past five years he has spearheaded the party's anti-corruption efforts, which analysts say have been an important part of Xi's consolidation of power. Prior to that he ran the party's secretariat and all-important Organization Department, which oversees personnel. As head of parliament Zhao will ensure that legislation is in lock step with the party's, and Xi's, policy priorities.
Qin Gang — Foreign minister and state councilor
Qin Gang became foreign minister in December, but at the congress he was also appointed the role of State Councilor. This is a senior cabinet post that is one rung down from vice premier and adds to his weight and influence in foreign policy. At a press conference in the middle of the week Qin repeatedly lashed out at the United States – where, until December, he had served as China's ambassador. A former spokesman for the foreign ministry, Qin pioneered the controversial "wolf warrior" approach to foreign policy messaging, and his remarks last week appeared to demonstrate that it was alive and well. Analysts say Xi trusts Qin, who was the foreign ministry's head of protocol from 2014 to 2018, and was by Xi's side on foreign trips and when conducting diplomacy. Qin turns 56 this month, and is the youngest member of the leadership cohort.
Li Shangfu — Defense minister and state councilor
Li is a general in the People's Liberation Army who, since 2018, has been under sanctions by the U.S. for buying combat aircraft and equipment from Russia's top arms exporter. According to official biographies, Li worked on China's military-led space program. He also spent significant time in the general armament command as China's military was being overhauled.
Yi Gang — Central bank governor
Yi Gang has been governor of the People's Bank of China for 5 years, and his re-appointment surprised many who expected him to be replaced in this reshuffle. Yi studied economics in the United States, earning a PhD from the University of Illinois. He then worked as a professor at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. Yi has worked at the Chinese central bank since the 1990s, and became governor in 2018. Economists think he was retained for the sake of stability.
Aowen Cao contributed research from Beijing