As Xi Jinping cements his power in China, these are the men he’s tapped to surround him

China’s President Xi Jinping announced Sunday that he would serve a third consecutive five-year term as leader of the country’s ruling Communist Party, cementing his status as the most powerful Chinese leader since chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China.

Xi “wants to take China in a direction of travel which is slightly socialist, but very, very authoritarian — and demanding the rest of the world to pay it due respect,” Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told CBS News partner network BBC News. “We need to pay a lot more attention as to what happens in China. China is the real McCoy. Xi Jinping will make Putin look rather mild.”

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Xi is believed to hold virtually all of the power himself, but the six most senior members of the party behind him are still a highly influential group. They make up the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, which is the top party leadership. 

Most of the team tapped by Xi over the last week are new to the committee, and while they have varying degrees of experience, all share one thing in common: They are seen as loyalists to the president.

Here’s look at the men who now sit at the center of the Chinese government, right behind Xi Jinping:

Cai Qi

Cai is the current mayor of Beijing. Born in 1955, he is one of Xi Jinping’s most trusted confidants, reflected by his being promoted four times over the past four years. Cai spent decades in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang and currently serves as the head of the Communist Party in the capital Beijing. He has a mixed reputation for his campaign to remove migrant workers in 2017, which the city dubbed “low-end population,” as well as for successfully hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022, which was seen as a success.

Ding Xuexiang

Ding is the Director of the Office of the General Secretary and Office of the President He was born in 1962 in eastern China to a family with no political background or connections. Ding has no experience governing a province or holding a ministerial position in the cabinet, and his fast promotion shows Xi’s emphasis on loyalty. Known for his good writing skills and memory, he is effectively serving as Xi’s chief of staff.

Li Qiang

Li is currently the party secretary of Shanghai, but many believe he will be the country’s next premier – the second in command after Xi. Born in 1959, Li is trusted and supported by Xi and has extensive experience, having governed three economically important provinces in the Yangtze Delta region. Li oversaw Shanghai’s free trade zone, which drew Tesla to build its gigafactory in the province, and was also behind the extreme COVID lockdowns that shut down the region for months and ignited anger among local residents. It did not, however, seem to have a negative impact on his career, as he strictly toed Beijing’s line.

Li Xi

Li was born in 1956 and had a personal connection to Xi’s family, as he worked for a senior party official who was close to Xi’s late father. Li’s current position as head of the party in Guangdong province, an economic powerhouse, has offered him experience in economic management.

Wang Huning

Wang is already a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the first secretary of the Communist Party Secretariat. Born in 1955, he is a well-educated theorist, having studied French and international politics in his 20s. He was a visiting scholar in the U.S. in the late 1980s and spent time at UC Berkeley. He shaped the guiding “theories” for the past three Chinese leaders and is believed to be a key architect of Xi’s philosophy and policy.

Zhao Leji

Zhao is also already a member of the Standing Committee and the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Born in 1957, Zhao’s ancestral home is Shaanxi province in northwest China, where Xi Jinping was sent during the Cultural Revolution. Zhao is considered to be part of the so-called “Shaanxi Gang,” a group of prominent, on-the-rise politicians who were either born in, or spent much of their careers there. Zhao has been a rising star in Chinese leadership for two decades.

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Xi Jinping
Communist Party

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