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Xi promotes no clear China heirs, opening door to stay in power

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Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a new leadership line-up that included no clear potential heirs, breaking with a quarter-century-old succession system and raising the chances that he might seek to stay in office beyond 2022.

[HONG KONG] Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a new leadership line-up that included no clear potential heirs, breaking with a quarter-century-old succession system and raising the chances that he might seek to stay in office beyond 2022.

All five men appointed to join Xi and Premier Li Keqiang on the Politburo Standing Committee will be too old to rule for a decade after Mr Xi finishes his second term.

The official Xinhua News Agency said those promoted were Xi chief of staff Li Zhanshu, 67; Vice Premier Wang Yang, 62; party theorist Wang Huning, 62; party personnel chief Zhao Leji, 60; and Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng, 63.

The new lineup - coupled with revisions to the party charter that elevated Mr Xi's status - lay the groundwork for him to influence the world's second-biggest economy for decades to come. Last week he laid out a vision to turn China into a leading global power by 2050, with a thriving middle class, strong military and clean environment.

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During his first term, Mr Xi looked to boost China's global clout with an Asia-to-Europe infrastructure initiative, and has reassured the world that his nation wouldn't seek hegemony as it grows more powerful.

He has also sought to avoid a conflict over North Korea with US President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to visit China next month.

The group of leaders he announced on Wednesday raises questions about the future of a succession system that has underpinned China's recent power transfers.

Established in 1992 as an aging Deng Xiaoping sought to ensure stability following the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, the framework calls for party chiefs to hand over power after two, five-year terms, and identify a successor by the halfway point - where Mr Xi is now. It also set an unwritten retirement age of 68.

The addition of Hu Jintao to the Standing Committee in 1992 put him in line to succeed Jiang Zemin a decade later, establishing the two-term succession system. The elevation of Mr Xi at the midpoint of Hu's tenure in 2007 similar paved the way for him to take power in 2012.

This time around, younger officials who didn't make the cut included Chongqing party chief Chen Miner, 57, a former Xi aide, and Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua, 54. Another one-time contender, former Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai, 54, was suddenly taken down by Mr Xi's graftbusters in July and expelled from the party.

While Mr Xi could still promote a successor at any point, Wednesday's announcement signaled a willingness to depart from the norms established by Deng and return China to a personality-driven model that allocates him even greater authority.

On Tuesday, the party approved a revised charter that put Mr Xi's contributions on par with those of Mao Zedong and Deng and while declaring him the party's "core" leader indefinitely.

Joseph Fewsmith, a political science professor at Boston University who has studied China's elite politics for more than three decades, said that naming an heir now would've weakened Mr Xi as the future leader acquires political power.

"Doing so would make Xi something of a lame duck," Prof Fewsmith said before the announcement. "I've always believed Xi Jinping is a three-term guy. It's quite clear Xi sees himself as one of the big three leaders, after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping."

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