BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping was awarded a third five-year term as the nation's president Friday, putting him on track to stay in power for life at a time of severe economic challenges and rising tensions with the U.S. and others.
The endorsement of Xi's appointment by the ceremonial National People's Congress was a foregone conclusion for a leader who has sidelined potential rivals and filled the top ranks of the ruling Communist Party with his supporters since taking power in 2012.
The vote for Xi was 2,952 to 0 by the NPC, members of which are appointed by the ruling party.
Xi, 69, had himself named to a third five-year term as party general secretary in October, breaking with a tradition under which Chinese leaders handed over power once a decade. A two-term limit on the figurehead presidency was deleted from the Chinese Constitution earlier, prompting suggestions he might stay in power for life.
There was no indication that members of the National People's Congress had any option other than to endorse Xi and other officials picked by the Communist Party for other posts. When Xi was named to his first term as president in 2013, NPC members received a ballot with only his name on it and dropped it unchanged into a box. On Friday, reporters were kept at a distance and couldn’t see the four ballots that each delegate deposited into boxes placed around the vast auditorium of the Great Hall of the People.
Xi was also unanimously named head of the Central Military Commission that commands the party's military wing, the 2 million-member People's Liberation Army, an appointment that has been automatic for the party leader for three decades.
In other voting, the party's third-ranking official, Zhao Leji, was named head of the National People's Congress. The vast majority of the body's legislative work is headed by its Standing Committee, which meets year-round.
Zhao, 67, a holdover from the previous party Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China headed by Xi, won Xi’s trust as head of the party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, pursuing an anti-graft campaign that has frozen all potential opposition to Xi.
Former Shanghai party boss and member of the last Politburo Standing Committee Han Zheng was named to the largely ceremonial post of state vice president.
Xi, Zhao and Han then took the oath of office with one hand on a copy of the Chinese Constitution. The session also swore in 14 congress vice chairpersons.
Wang Huning, a holdover from the last Politburo Standing Committee, was later named head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the NPC’s advisory body that, in coordination with the party’s United Front Department, works to build Xi’s influence and image abroad. Wang has been a top adviser to three Chinese leaders and has authored books critiquing Western politics and society.
Xi's new term and the appointment of loyalists to top posts underscores his near-total monopoly on Chinese political power, eliminating any potential opposition to his hyper-nationalistic agenda of building China into the top political, military and economic rival to the U.S. and the chief authoritarian challenge to the Washington-led democratic world order.
While six others serve with him on the Politburo Standing Committee, all have longstanding ties to Xi and can be counted on to see to his will on issues from party discipline to economic management.
The standing committee has only men and the 24-member Politburo, which has had only four female members since the 1990s, also has no women after the departure of Vice Premier Sun Chunlan.