Xi Jinping was handed a third term as Chinese president on Friday, capping a rise that has seen him become the country’s most powerful leader in generations.
The appointment by China’s rubber-stamp parliament comes after Xi locked in another five years as head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in October.
Since then, the 69-year-old Xi has weathered widespread protests over his zero-Covid policy and the deaths of countless people after its abandonment.
Those issues have been avoided at this week’s National People’s Congress (NPC), a carefully choreographed event that is also set to appoint Xi ally Li Qiang as the new premier.
On Friday, delegates handed Xi a third term as China’s president and re-elected him as head of the country’s Central Military Commission in a unanimous vote.
Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, a cavernous state building on the edge of Tiananmen Square, was adorned with crimson carpets and banners for the landmark vote, with a military band providing background music.
A digital monitor on the edge of the stage proclaimed the final tally — all 2,952 votes had been cast in favour of awarding Xi another term in office.
The announcement was followed by fervent declarations of allegiance by delegates to the Chinese constitution in a demonstration of loyalty and unanimity.
Xi held up his right fist and placed his left hand on a red leather copy of China’s constitution.
“I swear to be loyal to the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, to uphold the authority of the constitution, to perform my statutory obligations, to be loyal to the motherland, to be loyal to the people,” he said, promising to fulfil his duties with honesty and hard work.
In the oath — beamed live on state television across the nation — he vowed to “build a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and great modern socialist country”.
Xi’s re-election is the culmination of a remarkable rise in which he has gone from a relatively little-known party apparatchik to the leader of a rising global power.
His coronation sets him up to become communist China’s longest-serving president, and means Xi could rule well into his seventies — if no challenger emerges.
Adrian Geiges, co-author of “Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World”, told AFP he did not think Xi was motivated by a desire for personal enrichment, despite international media investigations having revealed his family’s amassed wealth.
“That’s not his interest,” Geiges said.
“He really has a vision about China, he wants to see China as the most powerful country in the world.”
Tearing up the rulebook
For decades, China — scarred by the dictatorial reign and cult of personality of founding leader Mao Zedong — eschewed one-man rule in favour of a more consensus-based, but still autocratic, leadership.
That model imposed term limits on the largely ceremonial role of the presidency, with Xi’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao relinquishing power after 10 years in office.
Xi has torn up that rulebook, abolishing term limits in 2018 and allowing a cult of personality to foster his all-powerful leadership.
But the beginning of his unprecedented third term comes as the world’s second-largest economy faces major headwinds, from slowing growth and a troubled real estate sector to a declining birth rate.
Relations with the United States are also at a low not seen in decades, with the powers sparring over everything from human rights to trade and technology.
“We will see a China more assertive on the global stage, insisting its narrative be accepted,” Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, told AFP.
“But it is also one that will focus on domestically making it less dependent on the rest of the world, and making the Communist Party the centrepiece of governance, rather than the Chinese government,” he said.
“It is not a return to the Maoist era, but one that Maoists will feel comfortable in,” Tsang added.
“Not a direction of travel that is good for the rest of the world.”