Beijing party leader Cai, loyal to Xi, rises to the top

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Cai Qi was catapulted into the top echelon of China’s leadership on Sunday, capping a late-career rise that overcame a less than ideal stretch as Beijing’s Communist Party boss.

Cai, 66, was not on everyone’s list for the elite Politburo Standing Committee, but he is considered one of Xi’s closest political allies, having worked with him for 20 years in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang.

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His leap to the party’s highest governing body was reminiscent of a 2017 leap into the Politburo without the typical first stop at the broader Central Committee.

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China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, Xi has stacked the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee with allies, leaving out prominent reform-minded officials including Hu Chunhua, Wang Yang and incumbent Premier Li Keqiang. They were seen by some party observers as vying for a seat.

Promoted despite difficulties in leading the Chinese capital, Cai bears a strong resemblance to another Xi ally raised on the Standing Committee, Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang. Li, the likely next prime minister, has faced widespread public anger over a botched COVID-19 lockdown this year.

Cai and Li on Sunday joined a long list of party bosses from Shanghai and Beijing who have been promoted to the Standing Committee.

Cai was promoted in 2014 to deputy director of the general office of the Beijing-based National Security Commission, a body founded and chaired by Xi. A year later, he was promoted to the rank of minister, becoming mayor of Beijing the following year.

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He joined the Politburo in 2017, when he was appointed Beijing Party Secretary.

“The fact that Cai was promoted four times in (these) four years suggests his importance to Xi Jinping,” said Cheng Li, China policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

Now analysts say Cai is likely to lead the Party’s Central Secretariat, the body responsible for routine Politburo operations.

Neil Thomas, senior analyst for China and Northeast Asia at the Eurasia Group, said that besides Cai, only one other Xi ally, Yang Xiaodu, had been « helicoptered » from outside from the Central Committee directly to the Politburo in 2017, a promotion last seen. in 1992.

In 2017, just weeks after the 19th Party Congress, Cai faced strong public criticism over the forced eviction of migrant workers in the outskirts of Beijing. Images of demolished houses have been circulating online with leaked videos showing Cai saying the operation should be a « direct and difficult confrontation ».

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Cai weathered the storm, adjusting his public tone toward residents affected by the crackdown.

« Cai was not popular as party secretary in Beijing, but again, loyalty trumped popularity, » said Yang Zhang, assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service. in Washington.

Using a title previously used only by Mao propagandists to refer to the founder of the People’s Republic, Cai told the Beijing delegation at the party congress last week: « General Secretary Xi Jinping is paving the way for all members of the party and the country in the new era. . He is the leader of the people whom we sincerely love and admire.


Unlike most senior party officials, Cai was once a social media fan, amassing more than 10 million followers on China’s Weibo Twitter while working in Zhejiang province.

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He broke convention in 2014, announcing his promotion to the Xi-led National Security Commission before state media reported the news, according to the official China Daily.

Although he was noted for engaging candidly with citizens, even helping a few resolve issues they raised on his Weibo account, Cai stopped posting after moving to Beijing.

In 2011, Cai praised Facebook and lamented that it was blocked in China. He said officials had to get used to public scrutiny when explaining why he was so active on social media, according to China Daily.

A decade later, at a Beijing Party committee meeting on cyberspace and ideology hosted by Cai, no mention was made of citizens using social media to hold officials accountable.

Instead, the meeting said the capital would focus on promoting « positive energy » online. (Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Tony Munroe and William Mallard)



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