This is the seventh installment in a series of reports about the individuals comprising the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). These men are Chinese President Xi Jinping's closest advisors and the most powerful figures in China.
Cai Qi, the focus of this report, is a Xi Jinping loyalist and a newly-elected member of the Standing Committee. Formerly the mayor of Beijing, Cai is the Standing Committee's fifth-highest ranking member, and the secretary of the Secretariat of the CCP Central Committee.
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.
For the previous reports in this series, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1653 about intellectual Wang Huning, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1656 about Li Zhanshu, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1658 about Li Keqiang, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1660 about Wang Yang, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1665 about Zhao Leji, and MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1667 about Li Qiang. Note that Li Zhanshu, Li Keqiang, and Wang Yang were members of the previous Standing Committee, and were voted out of their positions last month at the 20th National People's Congress. Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, and Li Qiang are current Standing Committee members.
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.
*Chris King is Senior Research Fellow for the MEMRI Chinese Media Studies Project. King was an active participant in the student protests in China in 1989.