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  • Guoguang Wu

Li Qiang Versus Cai Qi in the Xi Jinping Leadership: Checks and Balances with CCP Characteristics?

Guoguang Wu CLM Issue 77 September 2023
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Cai Qi and Li Qiang
Parallel groupings of power and, correspondingly, tensions in personnel network building and policy priorities have emerged between Premier Li Qiang and Secretary Cai Qi of the Central Committee Secretariat in the current CCP leadership. This helps explain the contradictions in China’s governance, the policy inconsistencies, and sources of personnel instability. To explore the background, we outline the role and status of Li and Cai, respectively, in the leadership and describe how Li’s power is weak, as the nominal Number Two, in contrast to the expanding power of Number Five (Cai Qi). We also investigate the two leaders’ respective efforts to promote their own protégés and the subtle tensions between them in terms of significant policy preferences. Finally, we analyze the mechanism of checks and balances with CCP characteristics in the China context today.

The latest development in CCP leadership politics confounds many observers because there have been some self-contradictory and puzzling phenomena in both personnel arrangements and policy signals. In terms of personnel, the March 2023 session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) basically retained all the prior cabinet ministers but replaced the State Council leaders. This did not attract much attention from observers, but it is unusual historically, especially in light of the unprecedently large reshuffling of the party-state leadership in the 2022-23 round of personnel shifts. The latest, unexpected appointment of Pan Gongsheng, as president of the People’s Bank of China, has not elicited much surprise, perhaps because the removal of Foreign Minister Qin Gang (after he had been quickly promoted several months earlier) essentially shocked the public.[1] In terms of policy, significant speculation has unfolded around the following question: Why did the CCP regime simultaneously take such contradictory actions to both attract and to scare away foreign business? Accordingly, some people are asking: Has Xi Jinping been losing control of the leadership and policymaking? Are there any clues to explain what has been happening in CCP leadership politics since the March leadership reshuffling?

Instead of comprehensively answering the questions, this essay focuses on one feature in the current CCP leadership that may help explain some of the emerging contradictions since Xi began his third term. This feature is the parallel between Li Qiang and Cai Qi in terms of their respective roles and power under Xi Jinping and the corresponding political and governance tensions that exist between the two. Both Li and Cai were Xi confidantes and, with their elevation to the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) in October 2022, the ultimate decision-making body of China, emerged as the two biggest winners in the round of leadership reorganization at the Twentieth Party Congress. Li then assumed the position of premier of the State Council in March 2023 while Cai had already been placed in charge of the CCP Central Secretariat and also the General Office of the Central Committee (serving, in effect, as Xi’s chief of staff). Such a parallel and tensions began after Xi Jinping thoroughly remade both the composition and the operation of the top party-state leadership, thus creating a new phenomenon that had not existed during Xi’s first two terms. This seemingly is still a test-run as it only came into the practice in March 2023. But it seems to have caused a lot of tension in CCP leadership politics, yielding significant policy inconsistencies but also partially and indirectly exposing some points of both stability and instability in personnel arrangements.

In the following sections, this essay first outlines the status and roles of Li Qiang and Cai Qi respectively in the current CCP top leadership and describes Li’s weak power, even though he is the nominal Number Two leader of China, in contrast to the enormous expansion of Cai’s power, even though he ranks as Number Five. We then investigate their respective efforts to promote their own protégés and the subtle tensions between the two in terms of significant policy preferences. The last section analyzes some prominent political and institutional elements that have contributed to the emergence of this “Li versus Cai” power phenomenon and then concludes with an attempt to spell out why this feature is meaningful for understanding current CCP leadership politics and possible future trends.

The Weak Number Two, the Strong Number Five: Li Qiang and Cai Qi in the Current CCP Leadership

Li Qiang must have had both pride and trepidation when he assumed the Number Two position in the CCP party-state leadership. It is easy to understand why he would have been proud. In comparison with his predecessors from Li Peng to Li Keqiang, his educational background is not particularly prestigious; his political career too is more humble than notable, starting first from modest roots in a Zhejiang township before Xi made him party chief of Jiangsu province in 2016.[2] Prior to this appointment, he had not even been as prominent as his younger colleague Chen Min-er within Xi’s “Zhejiang gang.” Born in 1959 to a family of farmers, Li had every reason to feel a sense of pride as he is now prime minister of the second largest economy in the world under Xi Jinping who is known to be both demanding and crafty in managing his followers.

Yet Li Qiang’s trepidation is equally justified. Xi is often unpredictable; Li Qiang is personally dependent on Xi Jinping, as indicated by his serving as Xi’s secretary-general in Zhejiang and by Xi’s determination to promote Li despite the latter’s perceived disastrous performance in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in Shanghai. These may increase Xi’s capriciousness in working with Premier Li and in his ultimately, and unilaterally, deciding Li’s fate. In general, the Number Two position under a dictator is an extremely difficult position, as demonstrated by the purge of Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao during the Mao era and Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang during the Deng era. It can be said that there is a “predicament for Number Two” in CCP politics. Moreover, as premier, Li Qiang’s primary responsibility is to manage the Chinese economy, which has been stagnating for several years due to both the pandemic and to Xi Jinping’s catastrophic policies. Promotion of economic growth is today the most urgent but also the most troublesome challenge to the Li Qiang administration, and any performance failure or performance deemed by Xi to be unsatisfactory could leave Li as a scapegoat.

It seems that Li’s trepidation got the better of his pride as he assumed the position of premier of the State Council. At the first plenary meeting of the new State Council following his appointment in March, he highlighted that his government’s mission is to “ensure the sound and faithful implementation of the decisions and policies made by the Party Center and [to] put them very well into practice.” He urged every official to be a good implementer who fully and accurately understands the party’s strategic intentions and ensures that the party’s decisions and policies are effectively implemented.[3] Thus, according to Li, implementation, rather than independent economic policy-making, is the primary function of the new State Council. In this way, Li is displaying his loyal subordination to Xi Jinping and the Party Center that is at the heart of all decision- and policy-making power, and he has clarified his own role as Xi’s “person of action.”

In intentionally downplaying the status and role of the State Council in the Chinese political system and, accordingly, his own status and role as premier, who is supposed to be the CEO of the system, Li Qiang has also lowered his profile in protocol functions to avoid the possibility that Xi might think that he is overstepping his authority. For example, in his first foreign visit as China’s premier, Li Qiang took a charter flight (baoji) to Germany and France[4] rather than taking a special plane (zhuanji), which is customary for a state leader, thus making Xi Jinping the only Chinese leader who travels by special plane.

In comparison with Li Qiang as perhaps the weakest premier in PRC history despite his Number-Two designation, Xi’s chief-of-staff Cai Qi has assumed tremendously expanded power in the new leadership. Ranking as Number Five in the all-powerful seven-person PBSC and in charge of the CCP Central Secretariat, Cai Qi is also Xi’s chief-of-staff. This arrangement, namely, a PBSC member concurrently serving as chief-of-staff for the party chief, is unusual. Prior to Cai, only one person, Wang Dongxing, concurrently held these two positions from 1977 through 1978.[5] Interestingly, Wang Dongxing had been Mao Zedong’s long-timebody guard, and, following Mao’s death, he was instrumental in executing a military-backed coup to arrest the infamous Gang of Four and install Hua Guofeng in power. Wang joined the ranks of the top leadership under Hua as reward for his contribution. As director of the General Office of the CCP Central Committee, Cai is now responsible for managing the daily operations of the CCP central machine and for taking care of Xi’s everyday activities as well as his physical security.

Cai has also assumed other significant posts in the current CCP leadership that traditionally have not been assigned to the person in charge of the Central Secretariat. Prominently, there are two such posts: following Li Qiang and Zhao Leji, Cai is also a deputy director of the National Security Commission of the Chinese Communist Party (the Central Commission on National Security);[6] and, with Li Qiang and Wang Huning, he is a deputy director of the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission (the Central Commission on Deepening Reforms).[7] Xi Jinping, of course, has been director of both commissions since they were set up in November 2013.

These three posts are serious and unusual indicators regarding Cai Qi’s position and power within the 20th CCP central leadership. By contrast, Wang Huning, as Cai’s predecessor in the 19th CCP central leadership, did not assume a deputy directorship on the Central Commission on National Security,[8] despite his deep involvement in relevant affairs, even though he was on the Central Commission on Deepening Reforms, together with two leaders of the State Council (Li Keqiang and executive vice premier Han Zheng).[9] Now, with Cai Qi becoming a deputy directors of the Commission, the executive vice premier, Ding Xuexiang, is no longer a deputy director. By any count, Cai Qi’s position and power during Xi’s third term are unusually strong. He is more powerful than any of the previous Number Five leaders who were also in charge of the Central Secretariat; in the current PBSC, more than any of his colleagues his power roughly matches that of Li Qiang and it is below only that of Xi Jinping.

Li–Cai Personnel and Policy Tensions: Factional Network Building and the Economy versus Security

That Cai Qi, not Ding Xuexiang as executive vice premier, is on the Central Commission on Deepening Reforms, is a sign that Cai, although Number Five on the PBSC, may be considered a competitor of the premier of the State Council, namely Li Qiang, the Number Two on the PBSC. As the Central Commission on Deepening Reforms is the major decision-making body for all governance issues, this division of labor allows Cai to be deeply and comprehensively involved in significant business of the PRC administrative system in addition to his being responsible for supervising operations of the party system.

What deserving of some notice is that Li Qiang and Cai Qi are the only two who concurrently hold the positions of deputy directors of both the Central Commission on National Security and the Central Commission on Deepening Reforms. This has several implications for current CCP leadership politics. First, as other PBSC members oversee some assigned aspects of party-state work, Li and Cai are prominent in their positions, power, and responsibilities as the two hands of Xi Jinping in supervising the overall work of the entire party-state system (except the military). Second, there are different emphases in their division of labor, with Li’s focus on the economy, whereas Cai’s responsibility is more political. As politics is in command under CCP rule and especially so under Xi Jinping, it seems that Cai’s scope of power is wider than Li’s. Third, as NPC Chairman Zhao Leji and CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) Chairman Wang Huning are each assigned a deputy directorship of one of the Commissions, whereas Cai and Li are assigned to both, it seems that the norm prior to the 20th Central Committee leadership whereby the PBSC members were further divided into Tier I leaders (including the party chief, premier, NPC chairman, and CPPCC chairman) and Tier II leaders (consisting of the remaining PBSC members),[10] the ranking of the person in charge of the Central Secretariat has now been changed by moving Cai to become a Tier I leader (although it is still unclear whether this change will be extended to protocol occasions).

Has the overall rise of Cai Qi’s power caused a relative decline in Li Qiang’s power? The answer is not straightforward in view of Li’s intentional low profile in both status and power, if not responsibilities. But some tensions, and even competition, have emerged with this rise of parallel power between Li and Cai, especially in their building up of their respective personnel networks and their different policy priorities.

As the new Number Two leader without a power base in the central bureaucracy but with extensive responsibilities for governance, Li Qiang inevitably and urgently must require that his own team accomplish the very challenging tasks facing his administration. It seems that in the new round of leadership reorganization of March 2023, Li Qiang was given some discretion in personnel arrangements, exemplified by the appointment of Wu Zhenglong as state councilor and secretary-general of the State Council to manage daily governance operations. Wu Zhenglong had established a connection with Li Qiang as early as 2016 when Wu was party secretary of Nanjing (the capital city of Jiangsu province) and Li became Jiangsu provincial party secretary. One year later, Wu was promoted to be provincial governor to work as Li’s deputy.[11] Some younger cadres who had long worked under Li Qiang also obtained new, though less significant, appointments, including Wang Gang, deputy chief-of-staff to Li when Li was Zhejiang governor and who went to Beijing from Zhejiang to become a leader of the CCP Central Propaganda Department,[12] and Kang Xuping, who had played a major role in Li’s think-tanks in Jiangsu and Shanghai, then had entered the State Council’s Policy Research Institute with a promotion to a vice-ministerial cadre.[13]

Still, Li’s power in personnel appointments is limited, which is primarily demonstrated by fact that there was virtually no change of ministers in March 2023. When Li Qiang took office, the entire State Council leadership was replaced, with only one person staying on from the previous Li Keqiang administration (He Lifeng, who happens to be one of Xi’s most-trusted allies), but among the twenty-seven ministers, only three were new appointees.[14] Such a very limited scope of ministerial reshuffling was designed to maintain personnel continuity and to stabilize state administration in general and economic governance in particular. Nevertheless, the implications for Li Qiang’s power to appoint personnel are undeniably unfavorable. In China’s party-state system, although the premier is unable to dominate the appointment of ministers, any reshuffling of ministers would have offered Li Qiang an opportunity to place some of his own people in senior offices.

That said, a large-scale replacement of ministers might take place at the next NPC session (in 2024), which will be a good window for observing any changes in the dynamics of leadership politics in terms of the emergence of new factions. However, it is expected that Li Qiang will still be very cautious about placing his own people in positions of power for at least two reasons. First, he will not dare to cause Xi Jinping to frown down upon any efforts on his part to build up his own power base. Second, in China personnel power belongs to the Communist Party, not to any state organization, so Cai Qi’s control of the CCP Central Secretariat will seriously limit any personnel power on the part of Li Qiang.

Cai Qi is in a similarly awkward position, however, in terms of any attempt to build up a sub-faction under Xi Jinping. Like Li, former party secretary and mayor of Beijing Cai Qi has made some strides in promoting his former subordinates, but he has also been extremely cautious in this regard so as to avoid provoking Xi’s paranoia. In the past several months, quite a number of Beijing cadres were promoted and transferred to other localities. To name a few: Dai Binbin, a former secretary-general of the Beijing city government, is now a vice governor of Shaanxi province; Jin Hui, a former party secretary of Mentougou district of Beijing, is now a vice governor of Hebei province; Wang Chengguo, a former party secretary of Pinggu district, is now secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Political and Legal Commission; Wang Lijun, a former district governor of Fengtai, is now a standing committee member of Tianjin; and Zeng Zanrong, a former party secretary of Tongzhou district, is now executive vice governor of Shandong province. They were all promoted as part of the cadre exchange program among localities sponsored by the Central Organization Department, but not all of them are necessarily Cai Qi’s protégés. However, it is reasonable to speculate that some of them are indeed Cai’s people and that all of them very much hope to maintain their connections with their old boss in Beijing.

In terms of policy priorities, the differences between Li and Cai are much more obvious than their respective efforts to build their own personnel networks. For Li Qiang, the overwhelming priority is to promote an economic recovery and growth. To accomplish this goal, he must turn to some pro-market policy measures. By April 2, the 23rd day after Li Qiang took office, a BBC journalist found that Li as new premier had already attended fifteen public events regarding the economy,[15] and on numerous occasions he had elaborated on his economic policy, emphasizing his government’s intention of attracting foreign investment and of making efforts to revitalize the private sector, both of which are subtle adjustments to Xi’s economic policy of past years.[16]

It is difficult to imagine that Li Qiang carried out these policy adjustments against Xi Jinping’s will. As China’s poor economic performance of recent years has caused various fiscal, social, and even political troubles for the CCP regime, it seems that after completion of the leadership reorganization at the March NPC session the national leadership had decided to make new efforts to revitalize the economy, at least for the sake of strengthening the regime’s fiscal capacity. When Li Qiang highlighted his role as implementer of those policies decided by Xi Jinping, to a great extent he was talking about his responsibility as CEO of the PRC Inc., that is, to make profits.

At the same time, however, contradictory signals were sent from the CCP regime to foreign and private businesses, signals even stronger than Li Qiang’s empty words. In late March, without any official legal notice or explanation, the Chinese authorities raided and shuttered the Beijing office of the U.S. due diligence firm Mintz Group and detained its five local staff.[17] In April, a similar event took place in Shanghai, where Chinese police visited the office of the U.S. management consulting firm Bain & Company, questioned its employees, and took away computers and cell phones.[18] In May, China banned some chip sales by U.S. company Micro, citing national security concerns.[19]

There is no evidence that such crackdowns on foreign business in China were directly linked to Cai Qi. But it is no secret that Chinese police are supervised by the CCP’s Political and Legal Commission and that the top two leaders of the Commission, Chen Wenqing and Wang Xiaohong, are both members of the seven-person Central Secretariat headed by Cai Qi. On Cai’s agenda, moreover, the economy is at best marginal, whereas ideology, politics, and national security overwhelmingly top everything else. As the 20th Party Congress marked the end of the CCP’s focus on economic development and placed a priority on security over the economy,[20] Cai, as the man in charge of the CCP’s everyday operations, is fully justified in all his security-related policies and actions, even if they run counter to Li Qiang’s efforts to promote economic growth.

Checks and Balances with CCP Characteristics? The Underlying Political and Institutional Factors Leading to Instability and Inconsistencies

Policy tensions and potential factional infighting between Li Qiang and Cai Qi must not be understood as personal competition, at least not primarily personal competition. Instead, there are underlying political and institutional factors that are producing these tensions. Due to space limitations, here only the most important four of such factors will be discussed.

The first is related to Xi Jinping’s intentional statecraft, consisting of making and maintaining tensions and some competition among his lieutenants, as such tensions and competition are expected to keep those high-ranking leaders beneath Xi checked and balanced with one another. Therefore, such tensions and competition will strengthen Xi’s own supreme position above everyone. The CCP has developed this old trick of rulership that was carried out by the Chinese emperors (diwang shu) in organizational forms, including the institutional meaning of Xi’s supreme status and overwhelming domination of the current CCP leadership. It may be tricky to call this factor “institutional,” but it is institutional in the sense that institutions are the rules of the game by which the players are constrained[21] while the current status and power of Xi Jinping are the current rules of the power game within the CCP. Though such rules are not written nor explicit, the players of the power game, primarily Li Qiang and Cai Qi as well as their PBSC comrades, must carefully watch, think, and consider how Xi thinks about their power and what Xi wants to see in this regard. In academic jargon, the operation of a dictatorship is poorly institutionalized, but a dictatorship per se is a type of political institution. With such an institution, there is a huge dilemma, or a trap, for all cadres: that is, one knows that the boss, the dictator, must be pleased, but one does not know for sure how to please him (her?). In academic language, the dictator is the rules, and for many reasons, it is impossible for the rules to be clear, fair, transparent, or consistent.

It seems that Li Qiang and Cai Qi are both good players in this power game because they seemingly know that their boss Xi wants there to exist some tensions and competition between them. I have argued that new factional dynamics would inevitably emerge in CCP politics following the 20th Party Congress because Xi purposely makes use of interpersonal checks and balances among his associates to control them for his own benefit.[22] The increase in Cai Qi’s power vis-à-vis the decline in Li Qiang’s power supports this argument; it would be impossible to have such a situation if Xi did not want it to exist. It makes the power status of the PBSC members, especially the status of the Tier I leaders, more level than that which existed prior to the 20th Party Congress; the political impact highlights the Number One, that is Xi Jinping. It can be said that in the current CCP leadership there is no person who is a de facto Number Two, even though Li Qiang is nominally listed following Xi and above everybody else.

The second underlying factor in the current system is that, as decided at the 20th Party Congress, the CCP has now established the economy and security as two parallel priorities for the regime, no longer placing economic growth as the top focus of policy and governance.[23] But tensions exist between these dual priorities, and as Li Qiang and Cai Qi are assigned major responsibility to manage the economy and security respectively, the tensions between them can be seen as a personification of the duality of their tasks and their inherent contradictions. In the years to come before the next critical turning point, such contradictions will continue to confound CCP cadres and Chinese policy.

Third, an institutional duality between the party system and the state system has always existed in the CCP political system. To strengthen their own power, all party chiefs throughout PRC history (except Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang) have emphasized the overall leadership of the Communist Party. The state, therefore, can be said to be similar to the CCP’s “white gloves” for governance and foreign conduct. In this regard, Xi Jinping has even restored the Maoist slogan “the party’s absolute leadership of everything”; the expansion of the power of the Central Secretariat is simply an organizational measure to operationalize Xi’s political program. The party’s power, accordingly, the power of the Central Secretariat, rests on ideological control and management of personnel. Cai Qi’s increasing power thus embodies Xi’s efforts to control everything over and above any division of labor among the various branches of the giant CCP party-state system. It seems that Li Qiang understands this very well; his redefining of the State Council’s overall role, as discussed earlier, is simply an attempt to confirm the institutional reality that the Chinese state, especially that under Li Qiang’s leadership, is nothing more than a branch of the Communist Party.

The last factor, though minor at this stage, is the politics of succession. It would be too much to assign to the Li-Cai competition any post-Xi political situation because at the current stage any preparation by any top leader for a post-Xi era would be offensive in Xi’s eyes, thus very dangerous politically. But it is naïve if one thinks that sub-factional dynamics has no relevance to succession politics. Considering that the above-mentioned cadres who were recently promoted cadres, whether one of Li’s people or one of Cai’s people, are young, the relevance becomes even clearer.

The first and third factors together seem to establish a system of checks and balances with CCP characteristics. These Chinese characteristics include: First, unlike in a democracy, the top leader is beyond any such checks and balances, but he makes uses of such checks and balances to strengthen his own supreme authority and power. Second, such checks and balances are not institutionalized; they are played out without any explicit rules, and quite often there is even no clear division of labor among those leaders and the organizational branches involved in the game. Third, such checks and balances in the CCP regime are extremely unstable and vulnerable, not only because they depend on the players’ skills but also, and more importantly, because the Communist Party and the paramount leader, as Xi Jinping in the current case, who can act on behalf of the Party Center, is the ultimate source of such players’ power, and can decide on the distribution of power among them.

When the supreme leader controls everything, ironically, the CCP regime becomes less stable politically and more inconsistent in terms of governance. Moreover, the regime is highly homogeneous, which implies that the leadership structure and operation of power at the top is copied below at all levels. In the latter sense, the tensions and competition in the Li-Cai relationship are thereby merely the most significant relationship among numerous similar relationships among CCP cadres. Theoretically, in every locality, department, or ministry, such tensions and competition exist among all major leading cadres. Such a situation inevitably causes instability and inconsistencies; sometimes it may even explode into a crisis, as revealed in the rapid fall of Qin Gang following his rapid rise.


Following the close of the CCP’s 20th Party Congress, I argued that, in contrast to a prevailing observation that factional politics declined with Xi’s powerful domination of the CCP, factional competition will be inevitable in the years to come due to significant political, administrative, and institutional factors within the dictatorial regime, and generational changes will fuel the power struggles among those sub-Xi factions that are taking shape.[24] The rise of the parallel powers of Li Qiang and Cai Qi below the power of Xi Jinping and the inevitable tensions between them that have arisen since March 2023 in exercising their power seem to provide further evidence to support this argument.

This is not only about the factional dynamics of CCP politics, however. In fact, sub-factions below Xi are still at an early stage in taking shape and they are still far from prominent in leadership politics today. CCP leaders today, for instance, Li Qiang and Cai Qi, are very cautious and self-restrained in promoting their confidantes so as to avoid arousing any discontent or distrust on the part of Xi.

At a deeper level, the tense and competitive Li-Cai relationship can be seen as a case of checks and balances at work. But this is a mechanism of checks and balances with CCP characteristics that is fundamentally different from any democratic mechanism of checks and balances. Politically, such interpersonal checks and balances are mobilized in the power structure for Xi’s own personal and political interests to firmly control the top leadership, the central party-state machine, and the entire regime, although this does not mean that Xi wishes to see such sub-factions below become too strong. Moreover, the structural duality of the CCP regime in terms of the party system versus the state system and the policy duality that the 20th Party Congress set in motion by prioritizing parallel the economy and security further reinforce the relationship between Li and Cai. These dualities nurture numerous similar relationships among CCP cadres at lower levels and in different functional branches as well.

Such a phenomenon inevitably yields contradictions and, over time, inconsistencies in policy issues, especially when there are many overlapping issues in the division of labor between Li Qiang and Cai Qi. As the tensions in the power relationship between Li and Cai are seemingly designed by the structure and encouraged in terms of operations by Xi, the two leaders’ loyalty to Xi is reinforced, as Li is eager to establish his niche as an implementer of Xi’s policy and Cai hopes to show both his loyalty and his subservience to Xi while aggressively expanding his power to possibly even affect China’s overall economic policy. What becomes the victim here is the overall performance of governance of the CCP regime. In other words, the Li-Cai parallel epitomizes the fundamental dilemma of leadership politics in China today, that is, the strong political control but weak governance, that the Xi regime is now confronting.

About the Contributor

Guoguang Wu, Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University, is Senior Research Scholar at the Center on China’s Economy and Institutions, Stanford University and, concurrently, Senior Fellow on Chinese Politics at the Center for China Analysis of the Asia Society Policy Institute. His research interests include Chinese political institutions and their transformation in comparative perspective and the political economy of capitalism and globalization. He is the author of four books, including China’s Party Congress: Power, Legitimacy, and Institutional Manipulation (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Globalization against Democracy: A Political Economy of Capitalism After its Global Triumph (Cambridge University Press, 2017), editor or coeditor of six English-language volumes and author or editor of more than a dozen Chinese-language books. During the late 1980s, he worked in Beijing as a policy adviser and speechwriter for China’s national leadership.


[1] 中国人大网,“全国人民代表大会常务委员会决定任免的名单,” July 25, 2023,

[2] See Li’s bio information at 百度百科:李强/10810185, accessed July 25, 2023.

[3] Xinhua, “李强主持召开国务院第一次全体会议,”

[4] Renmin wang, “李强抵达柏林举行第七轮中德政府磋商并对德国进行正式访问,” June 20, 2023,; Renmin wang, “李强抵达巴黎对法国进行正式访问并出席新全球融资契约峰会,” June 22, 2023,

[5] See Wang’s bio information at 中共中央组织部、中共中央党史研究室编,《中国共产党历届中央委员大辞典1921–2003》(Beijing: Zhonggong dangshi chubanshe, 2004), pp. 711–712.

[6] Xinhua, “习近平主持召开二十届中央国家安全委员会第一次会议,” May 30, 2023,; Xinhua wang, “习近平主持召开中央全面深化改革委员会第十九次会议,” May 21, 2021,

[7] Xinhua, “习近平主持召开二十届中央全面深化改革委员会第一次会议并发表重要讲话,” April 21, 2023,; Xinhua, “习近平主持召开中央全面深化改革委员会第二次会议强调: 建设更高水平开放型经济新体制 推动能耗双控逐步转向碳排放双控,” July 11, 2023,

[8] The deputy directors at the time were Premier Li Keqiang and NPC Chairman Li Zhanshu. Xinhua, “习近平主持召开十九届中央国家安全委员会第一次会议并发表重要讲话,” April 17, 2018,

[9] Xinhua, “习近平主持召开中央全面深化改革委员会第十九次会议,” May 21, 2021,

[10] This observation is based on the official order of retired top CCP leaders when they appeared in public on protocol occasions. A latest example can be found in Xinhua’s 2023 New Year’s news report, “中央领导同志慰问老同志,” where those in Tier I were grouped together followed by those grouped in Tier II, January 20, 2023,

[11] Xinhua, “吴政隆任江苏省代省长,” May 31, 2017,

[12] Lianhe zaobao, “李强旧部王纲出任中宣部副部长,” April 16, 2023,

[13] Central News Agency,李強愛將康旭平進京升官-任國務院研究室副主任-022257256.html, posted April 11, 2023.

[14] For the list of appointees, see March 12, 2023, The three new appointees are: Wu Zhenglong as secretary-general of the State Council, Li Shangfu as defense minister, and Zheng Shanjie as director of the State Development and Reform Commission. All others were appointed before Li Qiang came to office.

[15] Chen Yan, “李强: 中国新总理上任23天的三个信号和三道难题,” April 3, 2023,

[16] See, for example, Lianhe zaobao, “李强喊话增强外资企业信心,” March 14, 2023,; Renmin wang, “李强同中外企业家代表座谈,” March 31, 2023,; 中国政府网, “李强总理:我们各级干部要真诚地、真心地关心支持民营企业发展,” March 13, 2023,

[17] Nicholas Yong, “Mintz Group: 5 Staff Detained in Beijing After Raid,” BBC,

[18] Demetri Sevastopulo, Ryan McMorrow, and Leo Lewis, “Chinese Police Question Employees at Bain’s Shanghai Office,” Financial Times, April 26, 2023,

[19] Chang Che, “China Bans Some Sales of Chips From U.S. Company Micron,” The New York Times, May 21, 2023,

[20] Guoguang Wu, “For Xi Jinping, the Economy Is No Longer the Priority,” Journal of Democracy, October 2022,

[21] Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 3.

[22] Guoguang Wu, “New Faces of Leaders, New Factional Dynamics: CCP Leadership Politics Following the 20th Party Congress,” China Leadership Monitor, no. 74 (December 2022),

[23] Wu, “For Xi Jinping, the Economy Is No Longer the Priority.”

[24] Wu, “New Faces of Leaders, New Factional Dynamics.”

Photo credit: China News Service, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


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