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In the footsteps of Mao: Xi Jinping puts himself at the center of the Chinese government | Chinese

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Xi Jinping eliminated key Chinese-led rivals and consolidated his control over the country on the final day of a Communist party meeting, when former president Hu Jintao was unexpectedly removed from the main stage. Hu’s departure was a rare moment in an unscripted drama in political theater, which is often carefully choreographed.

The closing session of the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concluded with a weekend victory for Xi, making him the most powerful ruler of China since Mao Zedong. Since Mao’s death, it has abolished the last norms of the political order that had been built by a single autocrat to prevent a return to the worst government excesses.

On Saturday, it was revealed that Xi had retired prime minister Li Keqiang and reformer Wang Yang so that he could bring together the standing committee of the Politburo (the heart of the government that has collectively ruled for decades) with loyalists. On Sunday, Xi’s third term as head of the CCP and thus leader of China will be officially announced after years of speculation. He will become president for a third time early next year.

Villagers from the ethnic minority Danzhai in southwestern China watch the 20th congress on television. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The week-long meeting was scheduled with certainty and paranoia, and Xi emphasized party unity throughout. But the party’s desire to control its public image made Hu’s sudden and seemingly reluctant departure in front of the world media particularly surprising.

The 79-year-old looked confused and unwilling to get up on stage in the Great Hall of the People when an aide or official whispered in his ear to lift him from his seat. At one point, Hu tried to get Xi’s notes lying on the table in between. Xi reached out to hold the papers. Hu was then escorted from the stage, sparking speculation as to whether his departure was due to health issues or whether power politics was being played out for a CCP or for international audiences.

Whatever the reason, it carried a symbolic weight. The other living ex-leader, Jiang Zemin, is now 96 years old and did not attend the convention.

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Xi used the meeting to solidify his position in the CCP and promote the cult of personality, making his writings the “core” of modern party ideology. After accompanying Hu, Xi was at the forefront of the stage, as is currently the case with Chinese politics. The most important meeting in China’s five-year political cycle, the convention brings together 2,400 delegates from all over the country with final decisions made by the party elite.

Under the old norms, Xi would step down as leader this week after 10 years at the helm. Instead, he abolished the presidential term limits, fills the government with allies, and could potentially be a leader for life.

Analysts say any senior officials who oppose Xi are unlikely to risk speaking out against him now. In many of his speeches, the president talked about the need for China to navigate an increasingly hostile world. In his closing speech, Xi told the delegates: “Dare to fight, dare to win, bury your head and work hard. Be determined to keep moving forward.”

His vision for China shows more pressure at home, more government intervention in the economy – although this has hindered growth – and aggression abroad.

The amendments approved on Saturday to the CCP’s constitution, Xi’s writings—called Xi Jinping’s Reflection on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Age—are the basis of party ideology, and Xi himself is at the “core” of the party.

A list of delegates appointed to the 205-member central committee also revealed that some of Xi’s most senior opponents – with links to other factions in the party and their own power base – were forced to retire.

The 25-member Politburo and its omnipotent standing committee are elected from the members of the central committee. Officials cannot join powerful governing organizations unless they are in the central committee. Among the missing were Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, who chaired the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Li was expected to retire from the premiership next March, but there were speculations that he would remain as the CCP leader in a less high-profile role.

A pro-reform politician with a relatively liberal image and rich regional experience, Wang was previously seen by analysts as a possible candidate for the next premiership.

“A central committee, politburo and standing committee, all dominated by Xi, would mean a significant loss of checks and balances,” said Willy Lam, senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. Xi’s policy of putting ideology and national security before economic development will continue for the next five or even 10 years as he is keen to rule by the 22nd Party Congress in 2032, when he will be 79 years old.

Other constitutional amendments have significantly hardened China’s stance on Taiwan. The CCP charter had previously listed Taiwan as a place where it hoped to “build solidarity” with Hong Kong and Macau. He now swears only to “resolutely oppose Taiwan independence and restrict it”. “Beijing is signaling that it’s going deeper on the Taiwan issue as there is no room for compromise,” said Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist at the Australian National University.