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The 7 men who control China

CHERYL W THOMPSON, HOST:

Earlier today, a line of seven black-clad men stood on a stage in Beijing. They're the new Politburo Standing Committee, the most elite decision-making body of China's Communist Party and the men who will decide the country's path forward for the next five years. And all of them are allies of ruler Xi Jinping, who confirmed he will head the party for a third term. NPR's Emily Feng reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Now, please join me in a warm applause to welcome the general secretary and other Political Bureau Standing Committee members.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: After years of politicking and invisible jockeying within the party, these seven men walked out in the Great Hall of the People. And what is notable is just how many of the men on the Politburo Standing Committee have close ties to Xi Jinping.

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PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: Li Qiang, one of the seven, recently party boss of Shanghai - he oversaw a disastrous lockdown earlier this year that left residents dying in their own homes for lack of food and medical care but was rewarded for following Xi's orders by becoming the next premier. Also among them is Ding Xuexiang, once Xi's personal secretary and loyal aide, and Wang Huning, an enigmatic political theorist whose thinking buttresses an increasingly nationalistic party worldview on culture and foreign policy. All this means Xi Jinping now has absolute control over the party. And in terms of governance, ideology, not policy, now matters most.

WILLY LAM: He will be perhaps the strongest man in the world.

FENG: Willy Lam is a senior researcher at the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. think tank.

LAM: All the seven are either proteges of Xi Jinping or people who are favored by Xi Jinping to carry out his conservative, semi-Maoist agenda. This will mean that there won't be any checks and balances. This could be potentially a dangerous situation because if Xi Jinping were to make a mistake, then nobody dares to correct him.

FENG: But there was this curious blip in what was otherwise a highly choreographed weekend. Former General Secretary Hu Jintao was escorted off the stage, seemingly unwillingly, right before an important vote, as dozens of foreign journalists looked on. Hu is 79 years old and has aged visibly since he last ran the party a decade ago. Was he led off due to ill health, or was his removal yet another sign from Xi Jinping that he is in charge? Lam thinks the latter.

LAM: The episode with Hu Jintao was that Hu Jintao was trying to - I think he was trying to raise some kind of objection.

FENG: And left out of the Standing Committee and even the Politburo was Hu Chunhua, a capable career official affiliated with Hu Jintao - they're not related - and who is no friend of Xi Jinping's. Xi then capped off his total sweep by delivering a muscular, grandiose speech after the Standing Committee reveal, vowing the party would defend Chinese interests in a world that is increasingly hostile to his ambitions.

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XI: (Through interpreter) In the face of new challenges on China's new journey, we must be highly vigilant and continue to push forward governance of the party so that it will flourish in self-revolution and always be the most reliable and strong backbone of the Chinese people.

FENG: Translation - Xi Jinping plans to push forward, with his most controversial policies concentrating political control in and outside of China. And the party, not the state, takes precedence.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Taiwan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.

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