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In China, President Xi Jinping Unveils Country's Leaders For The Next Five Years


China's most powerful leader in years began his second term today, a day after his ideology was added to the Constitution of the Communist Party. But when President Xi Jinping unveiled the party's new leadership lineup this morning, one person was missing - his potential successor. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has more from Beijing.


ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Xi Jinping led a procession of six men in dark suits onto the red-carpeted stage in the Great Hall of the People. He told journalists that the just-concluded party Congress had handed him a second term. And he introduced members of the new leadership lineup. Then he declared...


PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.

KUHN: Xi described a Chinese renaissance in which the country would eradicate poverty and protect its environment. Last week, Xi asserted that China's place in the world had undergone a transformation.


XI: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "China's international influence, appeal and ability to shape things has increased," he said. "And we've made new and important contributions to world peace and development." Xi Jinping also spoke proudly of the Communist Party's increased ability to govern, even saying that the party should be in charge of everything. Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the New York-based research firm The Conference Board, says that's not just empty talk.

JUDE BLANCHETTE: In sort of the post-Mao era, this is the most active, forceful and organized the party has ever been.

KUHN: Or at least that's how it appears at the party Congress. On Tuesday, for example, Xi Jinping called a vote on the party's work report. Everyone raises their hands, and it passes.


XI: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "All those opposed, raise your hands," Xi says. After a few seconds of silence...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: None here, says an attendant in one part of the room.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: None over here, says another.


UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: No objections, Xi concludes.


KUHN: It's a symbolic display of unity where of course there are no objections. In fact, important decisions are made in secret and handed to delegates to rubber stamp. Jude Blanchette says that for the world's second-largest economy...

BLANCHETTE: To have this little visibility into how it selects its leadership is striking.

KUHN: Then again, he says, the Congress has put Xi in a stronger position to pursue his own agenda.

BLANCHETTE: This is about maximizing power to drive policy. I think Xi Jinping is now a much stronger leader just because of even some of these more symbolic moves.

KUHN: Xi is now part of a new leadership lineup in which some men are his allies and others are not. Andrew Wedeman, director of China Studies at Georgia State University, says Xi Jinping may want his allies in charge, but he's willing to work with other groups within the party.

ANDREW WEDEMAN: He's there for the long term. And my hunch is he understands that you achieve the long term by having an orderly succession.

KUHN: The problem is that there's no successor in sight within the current leadership lineup. And that would appear to violate informal rules that new leaders are selected at the end of their predecessor's first five-year term. But Wedeman says this precedent has not been firmly or clearly established.

WEDEMAN: This run-up has seemed to violate an awful lot of what we thought were the rules. But, of course, then we're making assumptions about what the rules are in fact.

KUHN: Another informal rule has been that China's leaders retire after a decade in power. The lack of a clear successor now throws this into doubt as well. I tried to ask delegates to the Congress about these informal rules, but I did not get a straight answer. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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