Oct 25, 2022 - World

Xi's new inner circle emphasizes security and loyalty

Illustration of a 3D star with multiple padlocks fastened to it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Two top security officials assumed powerful positions in a Chinese Communist Party leadership shuffle at the 20th party congress, which ended on Sunday.

Why it matters: By bringing China's top security chiefs closer to his inner circle, Chinese President Xi Jinping will further centralize his control over the country's already expansive security apparatus, which is aimed at crushing domestic opposition and neutralizing perceived foreign threats.

  • During the Congress, Xi also secured his expected third term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, granting him another five years of rule.

What's happening: Chen Wenqing, the head of the Ministry of State Security, was appointed to the 25-member Politburo — the first time a Chinese spy chief has joined the Party's top decision-making body, according to Alex Joske, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and author of a new book on China's intelligence operations.

  • "The elevation of key security officials into top leadership bodies reflects the Congress' resounding focus on security," Joske told Axios, noting that Wang Xiaohong, the head of the Ministry of Public Security, China's national law enforcement agency, was also kept on for a second term on the 200-member Central Committee.

Chen is expected to take charge of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the party's highest security body that oversees the country's law enforcement agencies. Both Chen and Wang are also expected to join the Central Secretariat, which is in charge of running the party's day-to-day business.

  • "As Xi prepares China for 'stormy seas,' he is eliminating domestic opposition and empowering his security services to play a larger role in domestic and international affairs," Joske said.
  • That could mean more resources directed to the security services and greater political heft, which could pave the way for intelligence-related actions of greater scope and sensitivity than were previously possible.

The big picture: At the congress, Xi also installed allies in the Politburo and forced out the few remaining market-oriented technocrats, cementing his status as China's most powerful ruler in decades and marking an end to collective rule.

  • The top leadership's new composition shows "political loyalty is very important," Hsin-Hsien Wang, a professor of Chinese politics at National Chengchi University in Taipei, told Deutsche Welle.
  • "This outcome means in the next five years, there will not only be a lack of a checks-and-balances mechanism in the party, but it will also become much more difficult for different opinions to emerge."
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