December 16, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 439

Charming Xi: Cause For Optimism Or Cause For Concern?

December 16, 2022 | By Heino Klinck*
China | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 439

The world appears to have turned a corner with Xi Jinping over the last several weeks. After his self-imposed travel ban that lasted almost 1,000 days, Xi finally emerged from within the confines of the People's Republic of China (PRC) to engage the world again. First in September, he visited Kazakhstan for a state visit and Uzbekistan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. Then in November, Xi travelled to Bali, Indonesia for the G20 meeting. Most recently, he spent several days in Saudi Arabia for a bilateral Saudi-Chinese summit, as well as China-Arab and a China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summits. Additionally, German Chancellor Scholz displayed his apparent anxiousness to be the first G7 leader to pay respects to General Secretary Xi in early November after his third coronation at the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress.

Xi Jinping with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman

Notwithstanding some unfortunate public encounters, such as with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau in Bali, it appears that Xi's international charm offensive is being well received. Xi's foreign engagements have elicited wishful reactions from a variety of quarters. It almost appears as if the world is welcoming the Chinese Communist Party's top leader back onto the world stage after a regrettable absence.

Why is that so? Perhaps it is because there is a popular yearning for stability, both economic and political. This is only reasonable after a global pandemic costing millions of deaths; a downturn in growth and prosperity with a concomitant rise in inflation now affecting most of the developed world; and a hot war and cold winter in Europe not to mention what many refer to as a "new Cold War" developing between the two most powerful countries in the world. Observers and commentators (and even some wary national leaders) are all looking for signs for optimism. 

Reviews of the Biden-Xi bilateral meeting at the G20 meeting seemed to search for constructive developments. Ostensible Chinese agreements to return to climate talks and other cooperative engagements, from which the PRC unilaterally walked away, were lauded and hailed as accomplishments. Positive comparisons to the cantankerous Alaskan meeting between senior foreign policy officials in March 2021 were made as if the juxtaposition in and of itself was a diplomatic breakthrough. Talks between U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Wei Fenghe, the PRC Minister of Defense, at the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM+) in Cambodia shortly after the G20 also seemingly gave rise for some optimism that the mil-to-mil relationship could improve. Furthermore, establishing a "floor" in the bilateral relationship has now become a regular talking point for U.S. officials. Ironically, the implication being that setting a "floor" would be an achievement.

Xi's international performance coupled with domestic Chinese events further feed the global optimism. Chinese society finally buckled under the draconian restrictions of zero COVID policies leading to mass protests throughout the PRC. These demonstrations were not only by students, but also by ordinary laobaixing (老百姓) , the common people, who have just had enough. Many feared that Chinese authorities would use overwhelming violence to suppress these protests as was the case in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Instead, the CCP regime loosened many of the zero COVID restrictions almost overnight in the face of unprecedented public opposition. Many are calling this major reversal a cause for optimism as well.

However, any sense of realism should dictate cause for concern as these developments only underscore the challenges that the PRC under a single, unitary leader pose to liberal democratic interests and values. Xi controls all the levers of power, turns them as he sees fit, and many react in an almost Pavlovian way. Yet, despite his paramount power, Xi has not publicly acknowledged the protests nor been at the public forefront of reversing course on zero COVID. This provides both the opportunity to claim the credit if loosening restrictions was the right decision as well as a fig leaf for a potential return to lockdowns and utilizing all aspects of the ubiquitous surveillance state to crack down on protestors. Regardless, it just does not appear realistic to anticipate a sudden end to what some observers call China's 'Führer era' since Xi's ascension to power in 2012.

Externally, despite Xi's recent international charm offensive, the PRC continues to establish and push "a new normal" in the Taiwan Strait. On 13 November, the largest contingent of nuclear-capable PLAAF H-6 bombers, 18 out of a total aircraft sortie of 21, entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Apparently, this was in response to a Japanese politician visiting Taiwan. Furthermore, on the same day, it was reported that PLA troops scuffled again with Indian soldiers along the line of actual control (LAC) along the disputed Himalayan border. Despite wishful Western thinking, these examples underscore what a variety of strategic documents, published since the summer of 2022, have emphasized about the PRC under Xi Jinping:

  • The Biden Administration's National Security Strategy identifies China as the U.S.'s most "consequential geopolitical challenge."

  • NATO's Strategic Concept states, "The People's Republic of China's stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security, and values."

  • According to Canada's Indo-Pacific Strategy, "China is an increasingly disruptive global power."

Perhaps even more illustrative is (re)examining Xi's own statements at the 20th Party Congress in October:

  • "Confronted with drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure on China, we have put our national interests first, focused on internal political concerns, and maintained firm strategic resolve."

  • "We have made clear that the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest strength of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, that the Party is the highest force of political leadership, and that upholding the centralized, unified leadership of the Party Central Committee is the highest political principle."

  • "Taiwan is China's Taiwan. Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese. We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary."

Moreover, Xi's personnel changes inaugurated at the 20th Party Congress do not augur well for optimism. It has been widely reported that the six that have joined him on the Politburo Standing Committee are all loyalists to Xi's personal leadership. There is no such thing as a "team of rivals" at the helm of the CCP. Xi personally selected men known as being his personal proteges and allies over the course of many years of service to him and the CCP. They are Zhao Leji and Wang Huning, who previously served on the Standing Committee, and were joined by Li Qiang, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi (see Appendix). This coterie of diehard loyalists will undoubtedly back Xi as the CCP continues to pursue its objective of "national rejuvenation" regardless of the cost imposed on domestic freedoms for the Chinese people or on the international rules-based order. No temporary charm offensive by Xi and the resultant wishful response from the West will change that unfortunate trend.

Xi Jinping with the CCP Central Committee Politburo's new Standing Committee, the most powerful men in China.

Appendix: The New Members of the Politburo's Standing Committee

Below are details about the new members of the CCP Poliburo's Standing Committee, in order of rank.

Li Qiang

Li Qiang is the second-highest ranking member of the Standing Committee, second only to President Xi Jinping himself, to whom he is fiercely loyal. Li was formerly CCP chief in Shanghai, and despite criticism he has faced for his management of the COVID-19 pandemic in his city, he appears to have retained Xi's trust. He is expected to become China's premiere in March 2023, becoming the first premier since the PRC's founding to not have previously served as vice premier.


Li Qiang was born on July 23, 1959, in Rui'an, in the Zhejiant province. He holds a postgraduate degree from the Party School of the CCP Central Committee and an MBA from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

In 2004, during Xi Jinping's tenure as the Zhejiang province party secretary, Li Qiang became secretary-general of the Zhejiang provincial committee.

Li served as Secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Political and Legal Affairs Committee in February 2011. In November 2011, he became Deputy Secretary and Secretary-General of Zhejiang CCP Provincial Committee and Secretary of Zhejiang CCP Provincial Political and Legal Affairs Committee. At the 18th National People's Congress, in November 2012, he was elected an alternate member of the CCP Central Committee.

Li became vice governor and acting governor of Zhejiang Provincial Government, his first ministerial position, in late 2012, and in 2013 he was elected governor of Zhejiang Provincial People's Government.

In 2016, he was appointed Secretary of the Jiangsu Provincial Committee, and chairman of the Standing Committee of Jiangsu Provincial People's Congress in 2017. He became a member of the CCP Central Committee in 2017, and soon after he was elected to the Central Committee's Political Bureau, a national leadership position.

Subsequently, he became the secretary of the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee, in October 2017, and became the first senior official to govern Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shanghai, China's three most economically developed regions. In June 2022, he was re-elected CCP chief of Shanghai.

Li Qiang had no previous experience working in the central state organs in Beijing, and is therefore an outsider to the Beijing officialdom, which is a "deep state" in its own right. He will also be a new face for the West. For these reasons, Li is considered the "dark horse" of the new Standing Committee.

Li Qiang And Xi Jinping

Like the other new members of the Standing Committee, Li is loyal to Xi Jinping, and being surrounded by loyalists will be politically advantageous for Xi if he decides to "solve the Taiwan question". It should be noted that Li and several other close Xi advisors are from China's wealthier coastal provinces and are very familiar with Taiwan affairs, particularly due to their provinces' proximity to Taiwan.

If Xi is pleased with Li's performance as premiere over the next five years, it is possible that he will allow him to serve a second term. In the event of an emergency, such as a rapid decline in Xi's health, it is possible that Li would fill his position as chairman of the CCP.

Zhao Leji

At the recent 20th National People's Congress, Zhao Leji was elected to serve a second term on the Standing Committee, and he was promoted from the sixth-highest ranking position to the third-highest ranking position. During his first term (2017-2022), Zhao served as the secretary of the CCP's anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (a position now held by Li Xi, see below).


Zhao Leji was born in Xining, the capital of the Qinghai province, on March 8, 1957. He became a member of the CCP in 1975. In 1977, he enrolled at Peking University as a gongnongbing ("Worker-Peasant-Soldier") student, accepted due to "class background" rather than academic qualifications. He graduated from the philosophy department in 1980, and went on to earn graduate degrees: in banking from the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and in political science from the CCP's Central Party School.

Early in his career, Zhao worked in the Qinghai Province Department of Commerce, and in 1993 was appointed Assistant to the Governor of Qinghai Province and Director of the Provincial Finance Department. The following year, he was appointed Vice Governor of Qinghai Province, and in 1997, he became Deputy Secretary of the Qinghai CCP Provincial Committee and the Secretary of the Xining Municipal CCP Committee. In 1999, he became Acting Governor of Qinghai Province, and in 2000, at the age of 42, he was elected governor of Qinghai Province, becoming the youngest governor in the country.

In 2003, Zhao was promoted to Secretary of the Qinghai Provincial Party Committee. He was the youngest provincial Party Committee secretary in China. In 2004, he was elected chairman of the Standing Committee of the Qinghai Provincial People's Congress.

After working in Qinghai Province for nearly 30 years, Zhao became the secretary of the Shaanxi Provincial Party Committee in 2007, and the following year he was elected chairman of the Standing Committee of the Shaanxi Provincial People's Congress.

In November 2012, at the 18th National People's Congress, Zhao Leji was elected to the CCP Central Committee's Political Bureau, joining the ranks of the CCP's national leadership. He also was elected Secretary of the Central Committee's Secretariat. Five years later, at the 19th National People's Congress, he was promoted to the Politburo's Standing Committee, becoming the sixth most powerful man in China.

As noted above, at the 20th National People's Congress in October 2022, Zhao was re-elected to the Standing Committee and promoted to the third-highest position in China. In the coming year, Zhao Leji is expected to become the Standing Committee's chairman.

Ironically, despite having been the head of the CCP's top anti-corruption agency, Zhao Leji has been mired in several known corruption scandals. He was found guilty of illegally constructing villas in the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi province, and was implicated in property rights disputes over a coal mine worth hundreds of billions of yuan in Shaanxi province. He was also involved in attempts to retaliate against Chinese Supreme Court judge Wang Linqing. In addition, Zhao has been implicated in corruption cases involving former Shaanxi Party chief Zhao Zhengyong, as well as in a major illegal mining case in Qinghai province.

Factional Affiliation

Zhao Leji is not openly affiliated with either the pro-Xi or the anti-Xi faction, and there is speculation about his alignment with both sides. Some believe that he is loyal to Xi, since they both trace their roots to the Shaanxi province and since Zhao's father, Zhao Ximin, had worked under Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun. It is noteworthy that when he was in Shaanxi province's top leadership, he built a large mausoleum honoring Xi Zhongxun.

On the other hand, Zhao became governor of the Qinhai province – and the youngest governor in China – in 1999, under Jiang Zemin, and he also became a provincial party secretary under Hu Jintao. Due to his young age at the time of his promotion, there has been speculation that this indicates affiliation with Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

In addition, some have speculated that Zhao has ties to the first-generation Communist Youth League ("Tuanpai") faction, since his father had worked with Hu Yaobang, the leader of the first-generation Tuanpai.

It is noteworthy that at the recent 20th National People's Congress, all members of the Politburo's Standing Committee who are known to have belonged to anti-Xi factions were replaced by pro-Xi officials (see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1664). Therefore, the fact that Zhao Leji was re-elected to the Committee may indicate that he does not belong to an anti-Xi faction.

Zhao And Xi Jinping

By all appearances, Zhao and Xi have a good personal relationship. As mentioned above, Zhao's and Xi's fathers had been close colleagues, and Zhao had built a mausoleum honoring Xi's father. In addition, Zhao and Xi advanced in the ranks of the CCP at approximately the same pace and are equal in seniority.

Since Zhao is friendly with Xi without openly supporting him, he may be being used by Xi in order to give the Standing Committee an appearance of ideological and factional diversity – which could contribute to the stability of Xi's leadership. Xi also appears to have overlooked the corruption scandals in which Zhao has been involved, and thus has significant leverage over him.

Wang Huning

Wang has been a member of the Politburo since the 2017 19th CPC National Congress. He is a renowned academic and is the CCP's top intellectual and ideologue. Wang is considered to have been the main architect of the CCP's political theory since the 1990s.[1]

About Wang Huning

Wang is the first intellectual to be on the Politburo's Standing Committee since Chen Boda, who was Mao Zedong's chief secretary. Sometimes referred to as Xi Jinping's "brain," Wang Hunin was instrumental in shaping Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" theory, Hi Juntao's "Scientific Outlook on Development" theory, and Xi Jinping's "Socialist Thought for a New Era," "Chinese Dream," and "One Belt, One Road" theories. Since he is behind the political theories of these three consecutive CCP leaders, Wang has been referred to as the "Teacher of the Three Emperors" and as the "Kissinger of China."

Wang opposes political openness, and he has the unique ability to breathe new life into the CCP's ideological foundations by presenting old theories in fashionable scientific terms and by providing them with a "contemporary" or "modern" basis. This talent may be one of the factors that leading to his rise to intellectual prominence, and early in his career, Wang was viewed as an avant-garde intellectual with novel ideas – something that was appreciated in 1980s China, which was characterized by relative liberalism and ideological openness.

He believes that a centralized political model is preferable to a democratic and decentralized model, because it allows the government to more effectively allocate resources and promote economic growth. He also maintains that a centralized government can better prevent social unrest and division from becoming widespread during modernization and reforms, and that it enables authorities to more quickly react to sudden national developments. Moreover, he argues that iron-fisted leadership is necessary in order to advance China's modernization before it can consider becoming democratic.[2] He also holds that China needs to be run by a strong, centralized Party-State system, culturally unified and self-confident.

What Wang Huning has proposed, and is promoting in the name of Xi Jinping, is to graft the part of Chinese traditional culture and values that merges the Confucianism of Confucius and Mencius with Marxist Communism, in which no one truly believes anymore, in order to obtain a new source of spiritual power and a solution to prolong the life of the Communist Party.[3]

Academic Career

Wang Huning holds a master's degree in law from the Department of International Politics of Fudan University. He has served as Director and as Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Political Science Association, as the Dean of the Law School of Fudan University, as a professor in the Department of International Politics, and as a doctoral supervisor. Wang is very well-read in Western political science and social science works.

Already well known in China's academic circles in the 1980s, he was featured on the cover of the CCP's Fortnightly Chat magazine and other current affairs magazines.

The major books he has authored are Analysis of Comparative Politics (1987), Analysis of Contemporary Western Politics (1988), America Against America (1991 – his most famous work), Political Logic – The Principle of Marxist Politics (1994), Political Life (1995) and General Introduction to New Politics (1998, co-authored with mentor Wang Bangzuo and republished in 2006 and 2011).

In the 1980s, many of Wang's papers were published in professional journals such as Social Science Front, Foreign Politics of CASS, and CASS Journal of Political Science. His papers on political system reform were widely published in the pioneering theoretical periodicals and in newspapers such as Dushu, World Economic Herald, Wenhui Daily, Jiefang Daily, and Guangming Daily.

His most prominent papers and articles include:

  • Analysis of Political Leadership in the Process of Modernization

  • The Background and Prospect of China's Political System Reform

  • The Changing Structure of China's Political Culture

  • The Establishment of a New Political Outlook on Development

  • The Primary Stage of Socialism and the Reform of the Political System

  • On the Construction of Democratic Politics

  • Promoting the Internationalization of Government Functions

  • The Subjectivity of Democratization of Political Life

  • On Political Transparency

  • A Comparative Study of Contemporary American Democratic Republic System

  • A Comparison of the Organizational Structure of Contemporary Western Political Parties

  • An Analysis of Contemporary Political Science

  • Sovereignty

Scholars critical of Wang have criticized his "new" theories of being nothing more than mixtures of ideas from Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Machiavelli's The Prince, and the well-known political work Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government (a.k.a. History as a Mirror).

In 1988, Wang Huning visited the U.S., spending six months as a visiting scholar in the Department of Political Science at the University of Iowa and University of California, Berkeley. During his time in the U.S., he visited more than 30 cities and nearly 20 universities, and returned to China in 1989.[4] His observations and research conclusions are a fundamental rejection of the American political system and values. At that time, he hoped to create a new "core value" for China, which was to combine Marxism and socialism with traditional Chinese Confucian values and Chinese Legalist political thought, Western supreme ideas of state sovereignty and power, and Chinese nationalism, to resist the influence of Western liberalism. This can be seen in a book he wrote after returning home, titled America Against America.

In that book, Wang Huning argues that the America faces "unstoppable crises and undercurrents," and that the cell of American society is the individual – and that at the core of modern American liberalism lie radical, nihilistic individualism. At the same time, he states, everything is commoditized, corrupting society and leading to serious problems.

Finally, he says, nihilism is becoming the American way, which is a fatal impact on cultural development and the American spirit. He maintains that as a result of this development, the value system of the U.S. is declining, and the entire democratic system is also under great impact.

He agrees with the idea of the "end of the American spirit." "If the value system collapses," he asks in his book, "how can the social system survive?"

America Against America sold out in China during the turmoil after the 2020 U.S. presidential election, especially when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed Congress on January 6, 2021. At that time, some Chinese thought that the U.S. was in decline. Wang's book states the same thing – but 30 years previously.

Wang Huning's theory of American decline may be the ideological source of Xi Jinping's ongoing belief in the past two years that the idea that "the East is rising and the West is declining" is manifesting itself in the international power system.

Since entering politics, Wang has cut off almost all contact with former teachers, students, friends, and colleague from his days in academia.

Political Career

Wang's rise in politics began when his ideas found favor with Zeng Qinghong and Wu Bangguo, later to become members of the Politburo's Standing Committee and China's Vice President and Vice Premiere, respectively. At the time, Zeng and Wu were senior party officials in Shanghai, and were responsible for forming Wang's relationship with future Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who was at the time secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee.

After the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when Deng Xiaoping appointed Jiang Zemin to the post of General Secretary of the CCP's Central Committee, Wang Huning was brought to the attention of the highest echelon of the CCP, and was ultimately summoned to Beijing by Jiang Zemin in 1995. He became an advisor and writer to the highest echelon of the CCP, and sat in the Zhongnanhai, which is the CCP's headquarters, in Shanghai.

By the 1980s and 1990s, the strongman politics of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping had begun falling out of favor, and the CCP needed new theoretical political concepts in order to preserve its stability and its legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese public. Deng Xiaoping proposed that the leadership of the country be handed over to experts and professionals in order to facilitate modernization, and he proactively sought out individuals from nonpolitical backgrounds who would not be interested in political struggle.

Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping all hold degrees in science and engineering, and they rose in the ranks of the CCP during the technocratic era ushered in by Deng Xiaoping. However, as a result of the technocracy, much of the CCP leadership lacked comprehensive training in humanities, political science, economics, literature, philosophy, history, and other classic fields of study. Since Jiang Zemin's reign as the leader of the CCP, this role has been filled by Wang Huning, who is a bona-fide academic with a knack for transforming the leaders' ideas into grand visions and into cohesive and modern political theories. His unique talents also help him form ways of defending the legitimacy of the CCP's one-party rule.

Originally joining the CCP in 1984, Wang was a member of the 16th to 19th CCP Central Committees, a member of the Politburo of the 18th and 19th CCP Central Committees, and the Secretary of the 17th and 19th CCP Central Committees. From 2002 to 2020, he headed the Policy Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Currently, he is the top official in the party's Central Secretariat, and since 2014 he has served as head of the Reform Office of the CCP Central Committee.

Cai Qi

Cai Qi worked with Xi Jinping for nearly 20 years when he was an official in the Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, and he is deeply trusted by Xi. Cai is an important member of the "New Army of Zhijiang," a group of officials belonging to the pro-Xi Jinping faction. Cai Qi is not as educated and intellectually sophisticated as ideologue Wang Huning, and he is likely to play the role of an unconditionally loyal "hype man" for Xi, similar to former Standing Committee member Li Zhanshu (see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1656).


Cai Qi was born on December 5, 1955 in Yong'an, in China's Fujian Province. He joined the CCP in 1975 and studied at Fujian Normal University's Department of Political Education as a gongnongbing (Worker-Peasant-Soldier) student. He would later earn an on-the-job PhD in political economy from Fujian Normal University's School of Economics and Law.

From 1983 to 1999, Cai Qi worked in Fujian Provincial Party Committee and in Fujian's Sanming City. He also served as the mayor of Sanming City, and he was later transferred to the neighboring Zhejiang Province, where Xi Jinping became provincial Party Secretary in 2002.

Shortly after Xi Jinping became Shanghai party chief in 2007, Cai Qi was transferred to Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, where he served as mayor. He then served in the Office of the Central National Security Commission starting in 2014, one year after Xi Jinping became the leader of the CCP. In 2017, Cai became the mayor of Beijing and the city's CCP secretary, positions he held until November 2022.

Cai was also elected to the CCP Central Committee's Political Bureau in 2017. It is worth noting that Cai's promotion directly to the Political Bureau without first having served as a Central Committee member is a rarity in Chinese politics, and it may be an indication of his closeness to Xi Jinping.

"Ruthlessness" As Mayor Of Beijing

In November 2017, when Cai was mayor of Beijing, a major fire broke out in one of Beijing's urban residential areas populated by lower-class residents. In order to carry out Xi Jinping's orders to relieve pressure in densely populated sectors of Beijing, Cai Qi took advantage of the fire incident as a "safety risk" and forced many of the locals out of their homes in the middle of winter, requiring them to either leave Beijing immediately or move to the suburbs. This left large numbers of people out on the streets, unable to find shelter.

Cai Qi's handling of the situation earned him a reputation of ruthlessness among many, to the extent that several renowned Chinese intellectuals called for his resignation. At an internal meeting on the subject, Cai said: "[This population] should have been cleared long ago, in accordance with our policy [and] the requirements... When you get to the grassroots, when you get to your work place, you have to do something really tough, that is, to make sure that 'the bayonet is red'... In other words, you have to be able to solve problems. If you don't go about your business with that attitude, sooner or later such a big fire is going to happen again in the area you're managing... If there is a fire like this in the future, everyone should cut their hands off."

Cai Qi And Taiwan

Like many of the Standing Committee members, Cai Qi closely familiar with Taiwan affairs and hails from a coastal province that maintains relations with Taiwan. This is likely a central factor in his promotion to the Standing Committee, since reunification with Taiwan is at the heart of Xi Jinping's aspirations for the next five years.

It is noteworthy that Cai has several family members living in Taiwan, and several years ago he visited the island. In a blog post about his visit, Cai wrote: "Uncle has lived in Taiwan for 63 years, and he is over 90 years old. When talking about the early reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, he was quite excited." During his visit, Cai also met with Kuomintang officials Lien Chan and Hung Hsiu-chu.

Ding Xuexiang

Ding Xuexiang is the sixth-highest ranking politician in the CCP. Since 2017, Ding has served as the director of the CCP Central Committee's General Office, functionally Xi Jinping's chief of staff, with access to him day and night – and hence with closer proximity to him than even the most senior CCP officials.

A Xi Jinping loyalist, Ding has filled administrative and secretarial roles for Xi for many years. At age 60, he is the youngest member of the Standing Committee, and it is expected that he will be appointed vice premier of the State Council in March 2023.


Ding Xuexiang was born in Nantong, Jiangsu Province on September 13, 1962. Like Xi Jinping, he has an engineering background. He graduated from the Northeast Heavy Machinery Institute (now Yanshan University) with a bachelor's degree in Forging Process and Equipment, and later earned an on-the-job postgraduate degree in Administration and a master's degree in Science from Fudan University's School of Management. He is a professor-level senior engineer.

After graduating in 1982, he was assigned to the Shanghai Institute of Materials under China's Ministry of Machinery Industry. He was promoted to deputy director of the Institute in 1994, and two years later he became the Institute's director.

When he first entered politics in 1999, Ding served as deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Commission. He subsequently served in several party and government offices in Shanghai. In 2001, he was Deputy Secretary of the CCP Shanghai Zhabei District Committee, and later became district chief. In 2004, he began serving as Deputy Director of the Organization Department of the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee and Director of Shanghai Personnel Bureau.

In 2006, Ding Xuexiang became deputy Secretary-General of the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee and director of the General Office of the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee. He was in charge of the confidential affairs of the organs directly under the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee and he directly served Han Zheng, who was then acting secretary of the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee and mayor of Shanghai.

The following year, Ding, then 45, became secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee, and shortly afterwards he was promoted to the Municipal Committee's Standing Committee, in his first vice-ministerial position. During this time, he served as Xi Jinping's personal political secretary. While he only held this position for seven months before Xi was promoted, he deeply impressed Xi with his administrative and organizational skills. This is one of the reasons that in 2013, shortly after Xi became CCP Secretary-General and after being elected an alternate member of the CCP Central Committee, Ding was transferred to Beijing as deputy director of CCP the Central Committee's General Office. Ding personally accompanied Xi Jinping during his 2015 visit to the United States.

In 2017, Ding was elected a full member of the CCP Central Committee's Political Bureau, officially becoming a state-level leader. Also that year, he was promoted the director of the Central Committee's General Office, becoming Xi Jinping's personal chief of staff.

A Diligent Secretary

While Xi Jinping's first position after graduating from university was as a secretary to Geng Biao, a friend of his father's who was at the time a member of the CCP Central Committee's Political Bureau, it is said that he performed poorly as a secretary and thus learned to value skilled administrators. This may be one of the reasons that Xi has relied on and guaranteed the promotion of Ding, who has a reputation for working methodically and consistently.

In June 2008, when he was secretary general of the Shanghai Municipal Committee of the CCP, Ding published an article about the importance of the CCP's general offices in the magazine Secretary Work. Ding emphasized in his piece that every secretary should think what a leader thinks, should respond to a leader's needs urgently to serve the leader well, and should be "loyal and reliable" to the leader.

Because of his great usefulness to Xi Jinping, it is no surprise that Ding was promoted to the Standing Committee, and throughout the years he has had greater access to Xi than almost any other Xi aide. It is also important to note that since he is a secretary and not a political leader, Ding Xuexiang poses no political threat to Xi.

Xi's "Chief of Staff With a Knife"

The General Office, which Ding directs, performs several key functions, including providing administrative and secretarial support to the Central Committee, coordinating between central and local government, and providing for the security, medical care, and life services of the CCP's officials.

Since the General Office is in close proximity to CCP officials in order to provide them with security and medical care, it is in an optimal position from which to monitor them as well. Hence, as General Office director, Ding has been able to directly monitor party officials for Xi's benefit.

Also, because the General Office is responsible for the medical care of CCP officials, its director can, under extreme circumstances, allow Xi Jinping to decide whether other senior party leader live or die. For this reason, Ding has been referred to as Xi's "chief of staff with a knife".

Li Xi

Li Xi is the lowest-ranking member of the Standing Committee. Formerly the party chief of Guangdong province, Li Xi has replaced Zhao Leji (see above) as the Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the CCP "anti-corruption" organ responsible for enforcing party rules, regulations, and discipline. Functionally, the CCDI serves the function of controlling and forcing party officials to bend to the will of the CCP Central Committee and of Xi Jinping.


Born on October 16, 1956 in Liangdang County, Gansu Province, Li Xi graduated from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at China's Northwest Normal University. He later received an MBA from the School of Economics and Management of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

After graduating, Li served successively in the Gansu CCP Provincial Committee's Propaganda Department, General Office, Organization Department, and Secretary's Office. Later, he served as secretary of Xigu District Party Committee of Lanzhou City (the capital of Gansu province), as secretary of the Lanzhou Municipal Committee, on the Lanzhou Party Committee's Standing Committee, as director of the Lanzhou Party Committee's Organization Department, as the deputy secretary of the Lanzhou Party Committee, and as the secretary of the Zhangye Municipal Committee.

In 2004, Li Xi was transferred to the Gansu Provincial Party Committee, serving as the secretary-general of the General Office, his first ministerial position. Later in the year, he was transferred to the Shaanxi Province – the ancestral home of Xi Jinping – and served on the provincial committee's Standing Committee and as the secretary-general of the provincial committee's General Office. In 2006, he served as the secretary of the Yan'an Municipal Committee, and the following year he was elected as an alternate member of the CCP Central Committee.

After being transferred to Shanghai, China's largest city, in 2011, Li served as a member of the municipal committee's Standing Committee and as the chief of the municipal committee's Organization Department. He was promoted to deputy party secretary of the Shanghai CCP two years later, and the following year he was transferred to the Liaoning Provincial Committee, where he would serve as vice governor – and later party chief and governor – of the Liaoning Provincial People's Government. These were Li's first provincial positions.

At the 19th National People's Congress in 2017, Li Xi, then 61, was elected to the CCP Central Committee's Political Bureau, officially becoming a national-level leader. At the same time, he succeeded Hu Chunhua as CCP chief of Guangdong Province.

Shared Roots With Xi Jinping

Li's hometown of the Yunping Township in Gansu Province's Longnan City was the site where, in 1932, Xi Jinping's father, Xi Zhongxun, launched the "Liangdang Mutiny." In addition, early in his career in Gansu Province during the 1980s, Li Xi served as the secretary of Li Ziqi, who had been from the same town as and close to Xi Zhongxun. Li Ziqi would often visit Xi Zhongxun in Beijing and Shenzhen, and Li Xi would accompany him on these trips. Hence, Li Li and Xi Jinping formed a relationship when they were young.

Li's and Xi's shared roots also mean that they both belong to the small and informal "Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Area" faction in the CCP, originally led by Xi Zhongxun and greatly valued by Mao Zedong. This alone is a basis for Xi to have a natural affinity for Li.

When he was the party secretary of Yan'an, Li wisely leveraged his familiarity with Xi's roots and attached great importance to Liangjiahe Village, where Xi had spent his early years as an educated youth. Liangjiahe Village has become a popular pilgrimage site for CCP officials, as the cult of personality around Xi Jinping has been promoted within the CCP in recent years.

Over the years, Li and Xi's relationship grew into a direct and stable political relationship. When Li Xi was party chief in Guandong Province, China's most economically developed region, he had the support and direction of Xi Jinping in launching an "anti-corruption" campaign against local officials who were hostile to Beijing and the CCP Central Committee. This campaign toppled several high-ranking local officials, and according to official CCP reports, during the year Li served as Guandong party chief, the provincial disciplinary authorities investigated 697 provincial officials and 7,724 county-level officials. The "purge" that Li carried out in Guandong, which broke up several interconnected "cliques" of local officials, greatly contributed to Xi Jinping's firm control over Guandong, and likely demonstrated to Xi that Li is a reliable, effective enforcer who can help him complete his consolidation of power in the CCP.

Head Of The CCDI

Li Xi is the new Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the CCP "anti-corruption" organ responsible for enforcing party discipline and for imposing the will of the Xi Jinping and the CCP Central Committee upon party officials at all levels. Widely feared by CCP officials, the powers of the CCDI have been expanded dramatically since Xi Jinping assumed leadership of the CCP in 2012, and it has "vertical" authority that gives it the final say in "disciplinary" matters in the CCP, even against local enforcement committees. The agency has been instrumental to Xi in eliminating political opponents and consolidating power.

The CCDI also has the authority to secretly detain CCP officials without prior court approval, and its jurisdiction covers all aspects of life in China, including the military, industry, agriculture, commerce, and academia.

During the five years that Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan headed the CCDI in Xi's first term, there was a saying in CCP officialdom: "Party officials are not afraid of anything but Old Wang coming to talk to you."

Li Xi's "anti-corruption" campaign as party chief in Guangdong was in effect a dry run for his current job as CCDI chief. In the next five years, under the instruction and leadership of Xi Jinping, it is highly likely that he will further purge the CCP of anti-Xi forces in order to create a favorable intra-party environment that will enable Xi to smoothly implement major policy changes and strategic decisions.

*Heino Klinck a member of MEMRI's Board of Advisors and a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia (2019-2021).


[1] Wang Huning was born in Shanghai on October 6, 1955. His ancestral home is Laizhou City, Shandong Province. Confucius is also from there.

[2] In March 1988, an article by Wang Huning titled "Analysis of Political Leadership in the Process of Modernization" was published in Fudan University Journal.

[3] Last year, in the last two notes I wrote for MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1646, A Packaged Past – Part III: Translated Excerpts From Chinese History Schoolbooks For The Seventh And Eighth Grades, July 26, 2022, I specifically talked about the reason and purpose of Xi Jinping's forced merging of Confucianism and some other traditional Chinese thoughts and values with Marxist theory: "Xi Jinping likes to talk about traditional Chinese culture, stressing what he calls cultural confidence, because the ethical principles of traditional Chinese culture are beneficial to his rule. Moreover, the promotion of Chinese traditional culture is conducive to shaping the Han Chinese into the main ethnic group of China and strengthening the concept of the Chinese nation. Xi Jinping's ambition is not just to emulate Mao Zedong, but to surpass him. Mao disparaged, suppressed, and denied traditional Chinese culture in general, but Xi Jinping is now trying to revive the so-called traditional Chinese ethical thought, which is characterized by rigid hierarchy and the worship of centralized power. Not only does he not want to oppose the part of Chinese traditional culture which is beneficial to his power, but he also wants to graft and utilize the thought of centralization and loyalty to the monarch in Chinese traditional culture to Marx and Lenin's communist ideology."

[4] A Fall 2018 newsletter published by the University of Michigan's Center for Chinese Studies further confirms that Wang Huning had frequent foreign contacts before entering politics in Beijing. ( The newsletter notes that in June 1989, around the time of the CCP's brutal crackdown on Tiananmen Square's student pro-democracy movement, Wang Huning even exchanged three letters with Michel Oksenberg, a political science professor at the University of Michigan and then-director of the Center for Chinese Studies. Professor Oksenberg's July 1989 letter to Wang Huning was also published in this newsletter.

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