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What Happened at China’s 20th Party Congress?

Xi Jinping tightened his grip on power and unveiled his top leadership.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves after speaking at a press event.
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves after speaking at a press event.
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves after speaking at a press event at the 20th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 23. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new Standing Committee, Britain’s leadership race to replace Liz Truss, and Ethiopia’s escalating war.

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new Standing Committee, Britain’s leadership race to replace Liz Truss, and Ethiopia’s escalating war.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Xi Centralizes Power at 20th Party Congress

Chinese President Xi Jinping tightened his grip on power and unveiled his top leadership at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party over the weekend, finally revealing the results of monthslong internal battles for political control.

Xi is now set to begin a third five-year term at the top, breaching the established custom of a two-term rule. It follows his yearslong efforts to entrench power at a level not seen since the reign of Mao Zedong, including by abolishing presidential term limits and enshrining his own political thought in the party constitution.

With the naming of the Standing Committee—a powerful, elite group of seven politicians inside the larger Politburo, China’s key policymaking committee—it is now clear who will be charged with executing this vision of absolute control.

Alongside Xi, six loyalists will now make up the Standing Committee. Four of the members are new; all are 60 or older and clear Xi allies. None of the men are expected to be threats to Xi’s potentially endless reign, since their various credentials and ages don’t position them to be his successor. In the larger Politburo, it will be the first time in more than two decades that a woman has not been named to the body.

Li Qiang, the party secretary of Shanghai, is now the country’s No. 2 official; his appointment, in particular, was seen as a clear sign that loyalty trumps all for Xi. The politician had presided over the city’s catastrophic COVID-19 lockdown that fueled food shortages and intense public anger.

A highly choreographed event, the Party Congress is meant to be seamless—but that was disrupted on Saturday, when officials escorted Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor, out of the room. Video footage of his removal sparked confusion online, although it was quickly censored and state media insisted he was “not feeling well” and had been led out “for a rest.”

“Hu’s unannounced and clumsy removal was either a cock-up—or a conspiracy,” as FP’s James Palmer writes, with some possible explanations being a health crisis or the emergence of new information that rattled Xi.

“But the third and most disturbing possibility is that it was planned, and we just witnessed Xi deliberately and publicly humiliate his predecessor,” Palmer added. “This would be an extraordinary move but one that rammed home the message of Xi’s absolute power—something reinforced by the rest of the Party Congress.”

[For more analysis on China’s 20th Party Congress, visit FP’s special coverage site. Palmer, Beijing-based reporter Melinda Liu, and Georgetown University’s Evan S. Medeiros will decipher the event in an FP Live conversation at 11 a.m. today.]


The World This Week

Monday, Oct. 24: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets Pope Francis.

Tuesday, Oct. 25: European Union energy ministers meet.

The U.N. Security Council discusses Syria.

Wednesday, Oct. 26: The United States, Japan, and South Korea hold a trilateral meeting.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Thursday, Oct. 27: Scholz visits Greece.

Friday, Oct. 28: The U.K. Conservative Party is expected to announce a winner in its leadership election.

Brazil holds a final presidential debate ahead of the country’s runoff election.


What We’re Following Today

Boris bows out. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has withdrawn his bid to replace his successor, Liz Truss, just days after launching a desperate campaign to secure enough support from Conservative lawmakers to reclaim power. With Johnson’s exit, Rishi Sunak holds a clear lead in the leadership race.

“I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do,” Johnson said in a statement.

Ethiopian forces advance. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have seized Adwa, a town in Tigray, The Associated Press reported, further escalating a nearly two-year war that is estimated to have killed half a million people. Last week, they also captured the strategic Tigrayan city of Shire.

As the conflict deepens, Washington announced on Friday that it would offer Ethiopians living in the United States Temporary Protected Status for an 18-month period. “The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict and the extraordinary and temporary conditions engulfing Ethiopia, and [the Department of Homeland Security] is committed to providing temporary protection to those in need,” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said.


Keep an Eye On 

Iran’s protests continue. Iran has pledged to sue the United States for what it claims is Washington’s “direct involvement” in the unrest that has been roiling the country. Outside Iran, the protest wave has also drawn global support. Thousands of people marched through the streets of Washington, Berlin, and Los Angeles over the weekend in a display of solidarity.

Sudan’s deadly tribal clashes. More than 200 people were killed in just two days in Sudan after tribes clashed over a land dispute last week, officials said on Sunday. It was one of the country’s worst incidents of tribal fighting in years.


This Weekend’s Most Read

What the Hell Just Happened to Hu Jintao? by James Palmer

Veteran Israeli Diplomat: ‘We Are Only Part of the West When It Suits Us’ by Ben Lynfield

Xi’s Third Term Is a Gift in Disguise by Craig Singleton


Odds and Ends 

Barilla claims to be “Italy’s No. 1 brand of pasta,” but it actually produces its noodles for the U.S. market in Iowa and New York, leading two customers to sue it for false advertising. Since Barilla markets its pasta with the Italian flag’s colors, they added, it is “further perpetuating the notion that the products are authentic pastas from Italy.”

Barilla has refuted their claims, since its product packaging indicates where the pasta is made, the Washington Post reported. “We’re very proud of the brand’s Italian heritage, the company’s Italian know-how, and the quality of our pasta in the U.S. and globally,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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