BEIJING -- China's rubber-stamp legislature on Saturday unanimously approved the reappointment of Xi Jinping as president with no limit on the number of terms he can serve.
Xi was flanked by a new vice president, Wang Qishan, who is shaping up as a potent deputy to Xi, with a potentially powerful say in grappling with President Donald Trump's administration over trade disputes.
At the Great Hall of the People, Xi, Wang and other officials took turns stepping to the lectern to place their left hands on the constitution and raise their right fists as they delivered an oath swearing loyalty to the constitution, the motherland and the people.
All 2,970 members of the National People's Congress in attendance approved Xi's reappointment, while Wang received just one vote against.
"We all support Wang Qishan to be vice president," Fang Jianqiao, a delegate from Zhejiang province in eastern China, said before the vote. "His partnership with President Xi Jinping can promote better contacts abroad," he said. "It will also help to better fight corruption and promote clean government."
Xi, who leads the ruling 90 million-member Communist Party, also was reappointed as head of the government commission that commands the military. He is already head of an identical party body overseeing the 2 million-member force.
Xi, 64, is considered the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. Last weekend, he was given the right to continue in office indefinitely after the legislature scrapped term limits for the president and vice president.
Chinese officials defended the move, saying it would bring the presidency in line with Xi's other two main positions as head of the party and commander of the armed forces.
Critics say the move, which overturns a push to institutionalize China's ruling practices dating from 1982, will likely lead to increased political repression and possible infighting among party factions seeking to promote their own candidates within the closed system.
Xi took office as president in 2013 and hasn't said how many additional five-year terms he intends to serve. State media outlets have said the removal of term limits will not alter conditions for retirement or create a president in perpetuity, but have offered no details.
Xi is expected to expand his yearslong campaign against corruption within the Communist Party to include all state employees through the creation of a new National Supervisory Commission, while continuing to pursue a muscular foreign policy and policies to upgrade the slowing economy.
Today, the National People's Congress appointed the No. 2 Communist Party leader, Li Keqiang, to a second five-year term as premier. The premier traditionally is China's top economic official, but Xi has stripped Li of many of the post's most prominent duties by appointing himself to lead bodies that oversee economic changes and state industry.
Economic growth and social stability have allowed Xi to amend the constitution and carry out other moves that once seemed highly contentious, said Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King's College, London.
"Really no one is going to shout and moan too much" because growth and stability are considered so important, Brown said Friday in a talk to foreign journalists in Beijing.
As China's vice president, the 69-year-old Wang is expected to be a key element in furthering Xi's agenda of shoring up Communist Party rule.
Party insiders and experts have said Xi wants Wang to act as a counselor, possibly helping to watch economic policy and anti-corruption efforts and manage ties with the West, especially with the United States. Trump has considered placing stiff trade sanctions and investment restrictions on China.
In China, the vice presidency is not an inherently powerful job. The previous incumbent, Li Yuanchao, faded from view, clouded by corruption scandals involving former subordinates and a widespread impression that Xi disdained him. But Wang appears poised to break that pattern and serve as an influential adviser and political guardian for Xi.
Wang appears likely to "play a leading role in overseeing U.S.-China relations," said Ryan Hass, a former director for China at the National Security Council and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Wang will bring long-standing bonds with American politicians and business leaders to the task. His ties to Wall Street executives include John Thornton, a former president of Goldman Sachs, who last year helped arrange a meeting between Wang and Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist. Wang also helped to steer trade and investment talks with Washington.
But Chinese officials have felt frustrated in their attempts to negotiate with Trump's White House. There is no sure evidence that Wang can succeed, especially if Vice President Mike Pence does not emerge as his counterpart to manage tensions, Hass said.
If Wang does take charge of the U.S. relationship, it would be a welcome development for many Americans, said Evan Medeiros, who met him several times when serving as senior adviser for Asian affairs in former President Barack Obama's administration.
"He is the rare senior Chinese official that has major credibility in both Beijing and Washington," said Medeiros, who now leads the Eurasia Group's coverage of the Asia-Pacific.
But Wang would not be inheriting an easy task. Xi's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and his top economic adviser, Liu He, made separate trips to Washington last month in a bid to defuse tensions in the relationship, but failed to ward off a looming storm over trade.
Liu's visit was immediately followed by Trump's announcement of steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. And last week, it emerged that Trump has ordered his chief trade negotiator to develop tougher tariff proposals to punish China for years of stealing U.S. trade secrets.
Information for this article was contributed by Christopher Bodeen of The Associated Press; by Chris Buckley of The New York Times; and by Simon Denyer and Shirley Feng of The Washington Post.
Delegates line up to cast their votes Saturday in the presidential election during a session of China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Wang Qishan, shown taking the oath of office Saturday after being elected China’s vice president, is expected to have more influence than past vice presidents have had, including in helping manage U.S.-China relations.
A Section on 03/18/2018
Print Headline: China vote sets Xi up for life rule