Xi Jinping to tighten Communist party’s grip with overhaul of China’s government at key meeting

Xi Jinping is preparing a profound overhaul of China’s government and party institutions at this year’s National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, which begins its annual session on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) trailed changes of “far-reaching significance” that are expected to include a reorganisation of the bodies tasked with managing the financial and technology sectors, as well as state security. The changes will all have one goal in mind: to strengthen the party’s control.

Xi is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. At the CCP congress in October, he was anointed as party secretary and head of the military commission for a third term, after abolishing the two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to rule for life. That will be reaffirmed at this year’s NPC when Xi is granted his third term as president.

For posts not held by Xi, the two-term limit still applies. Li Keqiang, the premier, is expected to be replaced by Li Qiang, who was elevated to the number two position of the Standing Committee of the CCP in October. Li Qiang, a close ally of Xi and his former chief of staff, was the party secretary for Shanghai during the gruelling lockdown that was imposed on the city for two months in 2022.

The sudden promotion of a cadre who did not previously hold a senior government position is indicative of the extent to which Xi values loyalty above convention and experience.

He Lifeng, another Xi ally, is expected to be appointed as vice-premier responsible for economic policy, as well as being considered for the role of party chief of the People’s Bank of China. One of the rumoured changes is the establishment of a new party committee that would oversee the central bank and other financial institutions. Such a change, with He at the helm of the government and the central bank, would centralise decision-making under Xi.

“Under Xi the party and government have been pushed together. The government has become less distinct and less effective,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute thinktank, and author of a book about the CCP.

China’s President Xi Jinping is free to rule for life. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Another rumoured change is that the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security could be removed from the State Council’s portfolio, and placed under the oversight of a newly created, party-controlled, internal affairs committee. “By moving so many of these core functions away from the oversight of the state, it would arguably weaken the state while greatly strengthening the power of the party’s Central Committee and, of course, Xi Jinping himself,” said Patricia Thornton, a professor of Chinese politics at Oxford University.

Last week the CCP and the State Council published a joint opinion on legal education. The document calls on state institutions to “persist in following Xi Jinping Thought” on the rule of law and that schools should “oppose and resist western erroneous views” such as “constitutional government” and “independence of the judiciary”.

Some analysts expect the opinion to be formalised in some way at the NPC. The language in the opinion echoes that of the “Two Establishes” and the “Two Safeguards”, CCP slogans that establish Xi and his ideology as the “core” of the party. The “Two Safeguards” were added to the party charter in 2022.

The NPC is also due to consider amendments to the legislative process. One of the proposals is to allow laws to be passed on an “emergency” basis. Changhao Wei, a ​​research fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center, said the provision “should be a cause for concern to those who value legislative openness and predictability, for the draft doesn’t define ‘emergency’ or tie it to existing emergency response mechanisms, so the legislature has complete discretion to decide whether an emergency exists.”

Aside from the political changes, the NPC will also announce the government’s GDP growth target for the year ahead. Analysts expect it to be between 5% and 6%, which would be a significant improvement on the 3% achieved last year.

Other proposals submitted to the NPC by delegates – which have little hope of progressing without support from the top leadership – cover a range of issues, from regional tensions to animal welfare, cyberbullying and boosting the birth rate.

NPC deputy Li Yihu is proposing efforts to promote “civil exchanges” between China and Taiwan to further Beijing’s push for what it terms “reunification”. Screenwriter and NPC delegate Zhao Dongling wants all children born after 2024 to enjoy free education through to their last year at university, while other delegates want more equal rights between married and unmarried women.

NPC delegate and agricultural scientist Zhao Wanping has also suggested authorities should return a little more freedom to people when it comes to fireworks. Hugely popular in Chinese celebrations, many cities have since banned fireworks and firecrackers for noise and safety reasons, but Zhao suggested designated venues for setting them off could be a good compromise.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Amy Hawkins Senior China correspondent