Xi shook up the power order in China, but the world should expect little change — because Xi is still the complete puppet master, 2 experts say

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  • Last month, Xi Jinping announced who would join him to be the top seven officials in China.

  • His new line-up is starkly different from the committee that ruled with him from 2017 to 2022.

  • Experts told Insider that the world should expect little change from Xi's new cast of cadres.

On October 23, President Xi Jinping revealed who would be China's men of power for the next five years.

As he strode past a golden doorway to meet the press at the Great Hall of the People, six officials trailed behind him in precise order: Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi.

The new line-up is a dramatic shift from the committee that ran China from 2017 to 2022. Only two of six previous Politburo Standing Committee members, Zhao and Wang, survived the transition. The other four reached retirement age or were sidelined.

Xi Jinping unveils the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi Jinping unveils the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee.Zhai Jianlan/Xinhua via Getty Images

Insider spoke to two experts to discuss the top three members of China's Politburo Standing Committee — Li, Wang, and Zhao — and what their appointments say about Xi's leadership style.

Li Qiang, Xi's trusted aide

Li Qiang
Standing Committee member Li Qiang is now China's second most powerful man.Kevin Frayer/Stringer/Getty Images

Boosted to the second-in-command spot by Xi, Li is thought to be one of the president's closest protégés. He worked as the leader's chief of staff when Xi was running the province of Zhejiang from 2004 to 2007.

"Xi Jinping always utilizes his old people. People who have worked with him in Zhejiang and Fujian. That's Xi Jinping's style," Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore, told Insider.

Li's appointment as No. 2 is perhaps the strongest indicator of Xi's grip on power. He wasn't even part of the previous seven-member committee, and had become deeply unpopular because of his haphazard handling of a two-month lockdown in Shanghai.

"Lots of people speculated that Li will be demolished after the Shanghai lockdowns," said Wu. "But he is one of Xi Jinping's people. That message is so important."

"This shows clearly that Li has not taken the full blame and that it is not him who bore the responsibility for the implementation issues in Shanghai," Dylan Loh, a public policy and global affairs professor at Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, told Insider.

Zhao Leji, the voice of the 'Shaanxi Gang'

An image of Chinese politician Zhao Leji
Zhao Leji previously ran the CCDI, an anti-corruption agency.Ding Haitao/Xinhua via Getty Images

Zhao was previously the head of Xi's powerful disciplinary committee, or the CCDI, a regulatory agency designed to crack down on widespread corruption among China's elite and the core of Xi's hallmark anti-corruption campaign.

It was during Zhao's tenure as the head of the CCDI that the agency started its stunning crackdown on big tech, a sector that had — until then — enjoyed rampant growth in China.

Having been the lowest-ranked member of the previous standing committee, Zhao has jumped four positions to get to his current role.

"Giving Zhao the third position might be an incentive or reward. It indicates to me that Xi Jinping is satisfied with the work that Zhao has done," said Loh.

However, Zhao was also known to have taken a "largely hands-off approach" during his time in office and didn't devote much time to investigations, The Wall Street Journal's Chun Han Wong and Keith Zai wrote.

Wu believes Zhao's appointment had more to do with his relationship to Xi. He's part of the "Shaanxi Gang," a group of Communist Party leaders who are natives to Xi's home province, Shaanxi, and grew up with him.

According to analysts from the Brookings Institution, Zhao is often considered a spokesperson for the Shaanxi Gang.

"That doesn't mean that Zhao was a childhood friend of Xi's. Other past powerful leaders have had more prominent relationships with Xi in his youth. But he's part of the club," Wu said.

Wang Huning, Xi's ideologist

Wang Huning
Wang Huning

Kevin Frayer/Stringer/Getty Images

Wang is known among Chinese scholars as a survivor, Wu said. Some compare him to a roly-poly toy, or a doll with a rounded-out bottom, because he hasn't fallen while serving China's last three regimes under Xi, Hu Jintao, and Jiang Zemin, the professor added.

Widely considered the brains behind Xi's policies and ideologies, Wang also helped Hu and Jiang craft their own political theories — an important mechanism that sets the tone for their administration's rule.

Wang has become "indispensable" to Xi because of his expertise in crafting political themes and slogans, which are vital to Xi's legitimacy in China, Loh said.

"Xi has increasingly turned to ideologies as a pillar of his rule," said Loh. "Mao resorted to violence, Deng Xiaoping resorted to money and growth."

"Violence is unthinkable nowadays, and money is a limited resource," the professor added.

In 1991, Wang published a book titled "America Against America," which documents his prediction of a decline in US dominance and stability because of the country's focus on "individualism, hedonism and democracy."

When the Capitol riot occurred last year, the book sold out on Chinese online marketplaces, Bloomberg reported.

Much of this is echoed in China's diplomatic and political rhetoric today. But Wang also played a key role in creating the ideologies of Hu and Jiang, under which China enjoyed positive relations with the US and opened its economy more to Western trade.

It's still Xi's China

Even with Xi's new committee lined up, the world should expect little change coming from China's new leaders, both experts on Chinese politics said. With Xi still at the helm, differences in governing ideologies or economic policy held by his six committee members are now inconsequential, they said.

Wu said that Zhao may have helped craft and refine Xi's ideologies, but that their essence comes from the president, not his political theorist: "When the emperor has so many people serving his cause, the emperor must take full responsibility."

"Xi Jinping makes it very clear. He is the commander," Wu added. "But a top leader will never claim to be in charge of everything, because then you would also have to take responsibility for everything."

Read the original article on Business Insider