In Mao’s footsteps: Xi Jinping puts himself at core of China’s government

Xi Jinping has eliminated key rivals from China’s leadership and consolidated his grip on the country on the final day of a Communist party meeting at which former president Hu Jintao was led away unexpectedly from the main stage. Hu’s departure was a rare moment of unscripted drama in what is usually carefully choreographed political theatre.

The closing session of the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) ended a weekend of triumph for Xi that makes him China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong. He has swept away the last norms of a political order built since Mao’s death to prevent a return to the worst excesses of rule by a single autocrat.

On Saturday, it became clear that Xi had shuffled premier Li Keqiang and reformer Wang Yang into retirement, so he could pack the politburo standing committee – the heart of government, which had for decades ruled collectively – with loyalists. On Sunday, Xi’s third term as head of the CCP, and therefore leader of China, will be officially announced, after years of speculation. He will get a third term as president early next year.

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