China´s parliament unanimously handed President Xi Jinping a second term Saturday with no limit on the number of terms he can serve and elevated his right-hand man Wang Qishan to the vice presidency, giving him a strong ally to consolidate power and handle US trade threats.
Xi, 64, was also elected chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China by a unanimous vote.
Xi, 64, is considered the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and last Sunday was given the right to continue in office indefinitely after the legislature scrapped term limits for the president and vice president.
Chinese officials defended the move saying it would bring the presidency in-line with Xi’s other two main positons of head of the ruling Communist Party and commander of the armed forces.
Xi took office as president in 2013 and is expected to expand his yearslong campaign against corruption within the party to include all state employees through the creation of a new National Supervisory Commission, while continuing to pursue a muscular foreign policy and policies to upgrade the slowing economy.
The National People´s Congress has widely expanded Xi´s already considerable authority during its annual session, adding his name to the constitution and lifting the two five-year term limit for the presidency and vice presidency.
Xi received a standing ovation after winning all 2,970 votes for the presidency and Central Military Commission chairman. In 2013, Xi had received 2,952 votes, with one against and three abstentions, a 99.86 percent share.
Only one delegate voted against Wang´s appointment, with 2,969 in favour. Xi and Wang shook hands as the legislators heaped on applause.
As part of the package of constitutional amendments, Xi and Wang for the first time took the oath of office by pledging allegiance to the constitution. Xi put his left hand on a red-covered book containing the charter, and raised his right fist to take his vow.
“I pledge my allegiance to the Constitution of the PRC to safeguard the Constitution’s authority, fulfill my legal obligations,” the president said. “[I pledge to] be loyal to the country and the people, be committed and honest in my duty, accept the people’s supervision and work for a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.” This was the first time for a Chinese president to take such an oath upon assuming office.
Elevating Wang allows Xi to keep a formidable ally by his side, as China´s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong cements his authority.
Wang, 69, stepped down from the Communist Party´s ruling council in October under informal retirement rules. But he has kept a prominent profile, sitting at the same table as the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee during the public sessions of the National People´s Congress while receiving fervent applause from the delegates as he voted.
Known internationally in his previous role as China´s pointman on trade, Wang could help Xi deal with increasingly tense relations with the United States amid fears of a looming trade war, analysts say.
Xi is keeping Wang by his side because of his “talent and ability,” according to Hua Po, an independent Chinese political commentator. “Choosing Wang as vice president is certainly to consolidate his power,” Hua told AFP.
Wang replaces Li Yuanchao, a relatively low-profile politician who has represented Xi on trips abroad. In his former position as vice premier, Wang periodically travelled to the United States, where then-president Barack Obama once gave the Chinese delegation a signed basketball.
An “amazing” economist, he could now form a “dream team” with another member of the party leadership, Wang Yang, to deal with concerns that US President Donald Trump policies will trigger a trade war, Brown said.
“Our Chairman Xi is too great, truly he is too great,” said Du Meishuang, a Chinese opera singer and delegate from Chairman Mao´s home province of Hunan.
“I hope he will rule for life, truly, this is the common people´s heartfelt wish.” She said the single vote against his deputy Wang was not a problem: “His age is quite advanced, maybe that was the reason.”
“All Chinese are looking forward” to Xi continuing on, said Zhang Fanhua, a delegate from Anhui, as he hurried into the falling snow.
“This is a great happiness for the country and the nation.”
“I am so lucky to be part of such a great age led by a great man,” said Yu Zhigang, an NPC deputy. “The unanimous vote showed that as our leader Xi has our full support and trust and bears our high expectation.”
Gesang Zhoigar, an NPC deputy from Tibet Autonomous Region, was also deeply touched by the election. “Being one of more than 3 million people from Tibet, I have strong trust in Comrade Xi, the whole Party’s core, our nation’s leader and the army’s commander,” she said.