Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as China’s president on Friday during a parliamentary session in which he tightened his grip on the world’s second-largest economy as the country emerges from a Covid-19 crisis and faces diplomatic challenges.
Nearly 3,000 members of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) voted unanimously for Xi, 69, in the Great Hall of the People in an election in which there was no other candidate.
Xi has led China down a more authoritarian path since taking control a decade ago and has extended his rule for another five years amid increasingly acrimonious relations with the United States and its allies over Taiwan, Beijing’s support for Russia, trade and human rights.
Domestically, China faces a challenging three-year recovery from Xi’s Covid-zero policy, fragile consumer and business confidence, and sluggish demand for Chinese exports.
The economy grew just 3% last year, one of its worst performances in decades. During the session of Parliament, the government set a modest growth target for this year of around 5%.
“In his third term, Xi will need to focus on economic recovery,” said Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank.
“But if he continues what he has been doing – tighter party and state control over the private sector and confrontation with the West, his prospects for success are not encouraging.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Xi on his third term. The two sealed a “no boundaries” partnership between China and Russia in February last year, days before Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Xi set the stage for another term when he scrapped presidential term limits in 2018 and became China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic.
The presidency is largely ceremonial, and Xi’s top position of power was extended last October when he was confirmed as general secretary of the Communist Party’s central committee for another five years.
During Friday’s vote, Xi held talks with prime ministerial candidate Li Qiang, who is expected to be confirmed on Saturday for China’s second-highest post, a post that puts the former Shanghai party chief and China ally Xi in charge of the economy.
Other Xi-approved officials are expected to be elected or appointed to government posts over the weekend, including deputy prime ministers, a central bank governor and several other ministers and department heads.
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