Xi Jinping has given the clearest indication yet that he intends to rule China for decades after he unveiled his new leadership team without anointing a potential successor.
At the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the Chinese president on Wednesday unveiled a new Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top tier of political power - to help him rule China for his second five-year term.
The group of six officials will be too old to take his place when he is expected to step down in 2022, under China’s unwritten retirement rules.
The standing committee includes five new faces and previous prime minister Li Keqiang.
The decision not to unveil a next-generation leader is a major shift from precedent, and suggests Mr Xi is setting the stage to prolong his rule over China as long as his health permits.
“You can see clearly as his status within the party rises that he will make it to a third term and even lead China for his lifetime,” said Wu Qiang, a political commentator who formerly taught political science at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
You can see clearly as his status within the party rises that he will make it to a third term and even lead China for his lifetime
“Maybe he will be like Putin, and be transferred to other posts before returning to be president, or he will step down but still play a key role in making decisions. All these are possible.”
The standing committee, and the 25-member Politburo, are supposedly appointed by 200 or so members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
Those members were ‘elected’ by more than 2,000 delegates who attended the recently concluded 19th Communist Party congress.
In reality, political appointments in Beijing are made by horse-trading, and senior posts will be decided by Mr Xi and his allies.
The Chinese president has emerged as the country’s strongest leader for a generation, due to a corruption campaign that has seen him defeat potential rivals in the party.
He has also silenced critics on the Internet and in the media by cracking down on free speech, and has waged a war on civil society.
The 19th Party Congress has seen him being elevated to the political level of Mao Tse-tung, after his ideology was enshrined into the constitution.
The move makes Mr Xi almost untouchable by potential political opponents.
Steven Tsang, the director of the China Institute at SOAS, University of London, said Mr Xi had increased his power to such an extent that it was no longer relevant whether a next-generation leader had been unveiled.
“I think it has become moot,” he told The Telegraph.
“Though this is a big deal in terms of the institutionalisation process post-Deng,” he said, calling it a “step backward”.
Both Mr Xi and Mr Li were unveailed at the 2007 Party Congress, which was seen as a signal that they would assume leadership from then, president Hu Jinatao and Wen Jiabao, the prime minister.
After unveiling his new standing committee, Mr Xi said: “Over the past five years, we’ve done a lot and some work has been finished, and some we must continue.”
His colleagues stood in line as he spoke, peering awkwardly towards journalists.
“A new era needs a new look,” Mr Xi added.
Among the five new committee members are Zhao Leji, who will become the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and Wang Huning, who is likely be in charge of ideology and propaganda.
Li Zhanshu, a close ally of Mr Xi, is expected to lead China's parliament while Wang Yang will become the new vice premier. Shanghai party chief Han Zheng will become an executive vice-premier.
In numbers | Xi Jinping