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Power, Politics, and Pandemics: Zhao Leji’s Crucial Role in China

Daniel Kim Views  

Yonhap News

On the 13th, Zhao Leji, the third-ranking Member of the Chinese Communist Party who warmly embraced North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, is equivalent to the Speaker of the Parliament in China. Zhao is well-known as a close confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit North Korea since the two countries ended the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed exchanges.

Zhao is considered one of the most trusted individuals by President Xi, handling personnel matters during Xi’s tenure and leading anti-corruption efforts.

Considering his achievements, he was reappointed as a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Community Party, alongside Xi’s secretary Wang Huning at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2022, and promoted to the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the third in the party hierarchy.

During Xi’s first term, Zhao, as the head of the Party Central Organization Department, was responsible for the personnel affairs of more than 4,000 key Communist Party officials, including major government departments and central state-owned enterprises. He played a pivotal role in promoting Xi’s close allies, the Xi family army, to key positions by pushing out bureaucrats from the Communist Youth League and Shanghai factions, which were the power bases of former Presidents Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

In Xi’s second term, Zhao was appointed the secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the sixth in the party hierarchy, and took the lead in the war against corruption. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is a supervisory body that uncovers misconduct by bureaucrats, but depending on the situation, it also plays a role in eliminating political enemies. Therefore, only those who trust President Xi can hold this position. Zhao’s predecessor was Wang Qishan, the current Vice President of the State, who is known to have a brotherly relationship with President Xi.

Zhao was born in Qinghai Province, but his father’s hometown is Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, the same as President Xi’s.

Since the two families have maintained a close relationship, President Xi and Zhao have likely known each other since they were young. According to Hong Kong media, Zhao’s father, Zhao Shimin, fought alongside Xi Zhongxun, the father of President Xi and a former deputy prime minister, in the same unit during the Chinese Communist Party revolution in the 1930s.

Especially when President Xi was virtually designated as the successor by entering the Politburo Standing Committee at the 17th Party Congress in October 2007, Zhao, who was serving as the secretary of Shaanxi Province at the time, took good care of Xi’s family. Zhao expanded Xi Zhongxun’s tomb and birthplace in Fuping, near Xi’an, and built a Xi Zhongxun Memorial Hall that rivals the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. He also led the sanctification of Liangjiahe, investing an enormous budget in a cave village in Yan’an, where President Xi lived as an educated youth for seven years from age 15.

His achievements during his tenure as secretary of Shaanxi Province were also impressive. In 2007, Shaanxi Province, which was only 20th on the national economic scale, rose to 6th in 2011, achieving the fastest economic development in China.

He also has connections with South Korea. At that time, he promoted the establishment of a Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory in Xi’an and had active exchanges with Samsung Electronics in South Korea. He met with Kim Jung Joong, the president of Samsung Electronics, and Kwon Oh Hyun, the CEO of Samsung Electronics. He attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Samsung’s semiconductor production base in China. Before this, he also attended the opening ceremony of the Korean Consulate General in Xi’an in 2007.

Born in 1957 in Xining, Qinghai Province, Zhao is four years younger than President Xi. After graduating from the Philosophy Department of Peking University, he began working for the Qinghai Provincial Government in 1980 and served there for nearly 30 years. In particular, after being appointed as the governor of Qinghai Province in 2000, he earned the title of youngest governor in China. In 2003, he was appointed the youngest party secretary and quickly rose to the top position in Qinghai Province.

▲Career of Zhao Leji, Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

Born in Xining, Qinghai Province
Born in March 1957 (67 years old)
Bachelor of Philosophy, Peking University
2000~2003 Governor of Qinghai Province
2003~2004 Party Secretary of Qinghai Province
2007~2012 Party Secretary of Shaanxi Province
2012~2017 Member of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Politburo, Head of the Communist Party of China Central Organization Department
2017~2022 Member of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Politburo Standing Committee, Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
2022~present Member of the 20th Communist Party of China Central Politburo Standing Committee, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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