The 20th National Congress, expected to take place in the fall, is an opportunity for Xi not only to extend his tenure but to promote trusted allies into positions of power. It offers a rare glimpse of who is in and who is out. Any shortcomings in key priorities, such as the government’s handling of COVID, could raise doubts about Xi’s leadership and provide an opportunity to discredit his candidates, analysts said.
“He would still be in pretty powerful control of the system, but he wouldn’t be able to increase the hold and his ability to force these agendas he has,” said Neil Thomas, an analyst with Eurasia Group, which focuses on Chinese politics and foreign policy. “That wouldn’t be a victory for Xi.”
The fate of one Xi loyalist in particular has become a litmus test for how the latest COVID outbreaks will affect his standing. Longtime aide and Shanghai party chief Li Qiang was favored to join the topmost ranks of China’s Politburo Standing Committee later this year. But the city’s chaotic lockdown has spurred some of the most vocal criticism of Xi’s zero-COVID policy yet, casting doubts over Li’s career.