The origins of the CCP’s institutionalisation of power competition and orderly succession owes to the foresight of Deng Xiaoping’s early political reforms.
In 2007, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was preparing to convene its 17th National Congress in Beijing, the names of two Lis were making the rounds as favourites to be anointed leaders-in-waiting of the party’s Fifth Generation. They were Liaoning Party chief Li Keqiang and Jiangsu Party chief Li Yuanchao. Newly appointed Party chief of Shanghai, Xi Jinping, was not expected to contend. He was expected to continue serving in Shanghai (having been appointed to the post only earlier that spring), and there was no precedent of a regionally based leader serving concurrently on the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee — the party’s highest decision making organ.
By late October, Xi had become the highest-ranking member of the party’s Fifth Generation within the Politburo Standing Committee. He did so by securing the highest number of votes in the ‘open audition’ selection process for the 25-member Party Politburo, which for the first time allowed all Central Committee members to vote from a wider pool of candidates drawn from provincial and ministerial-level cadres.
That Xi was neither obligated to Jiang’s ‘Shanghai Gang’ nor in Hu-linked groupings — meaning his elevation was neither beholden entirely to factional politics nor to the reigning supreme leader’s dictates — was also instrumental in his meteoric rise. By late December, he had been appointed executive secretary of the Party Secretariat and president of the Central Party School, and had hence mirrored the path that Hu Jintao had taken ten years earlier.