Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed his new leadership lineup on Wednesday, with five newly promoted faces and no obvious successor in the all-powerful Politburo standing committee.
Xi presented the most powerful men in the ruling Chinese Communist Party to the press as incumbent premier Li Keqiang and vice premier and former Guangdong provincial party boss Wang Yang, both of whom have a largely economic portfolio.
The president's top aide Li Zhanshu, 67, also joins the committee. Li's age means that he will likely step down in five years' time, making him an unlikely challenger to the president's power.
Ideologue Wang Huning, 62, the brains behind the political themes espoused by three Chinese presidents, is also a Xi protege, while newly appointed disciplinary chief Zhao Leji, 60, has a background in the party's powerful organization department, which manages personnel.
As head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Zhao will spearhead the president's ongoing anti-corruption campaign that has already netted some 1.3 million officials.
Former Shanghai mayor and party chief Han Zheng, 63, completes the seven-man committee, continuing a tradition for former Shanghai leaders to be promoted to top leadership roles. Han served as mayor of the city under Xi Jinping and Yu Zhengsheng, currently the party's fourth most senior leader.
An anonymous media source told RFA that Xi appears to have done away with the tradition of designated successors, a convention aimed at ensuring a smooth leadership transition after a party leader steps down. Xi was his predecessor Hu Jintao's designated successor.
"If they had been sticking to the previous model, then we would have seen somebody born in the 1960s enter the standing committee, but that hasn't happened," the source said. "I think that model is probably dead now."
A powerful force
The source said Wang Huning is a "propaganda gun," while Li Zhanshu has been brought in to "keep house" by watching the president's back.
"The Shanghai faction has done very well ... it shows that they are still a powerful political force," the source said.
Xi has made it clear that he will lead China through a "new era" of politics, playing military catch-up with existing superpowers and potentially dispensing with power-sharing conventions in place during the post-Mao era.
"Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered into a new era," Xi told journalists. "The new era requires new accomplishments in addition to a new atmosphere."
He said the new era will include a focus on poverty eradication, but signaled that his divisive and highly controversial anti-corruption drive will likely continue.
"We must continue to eradicate all viruses that erode the party's healthy body," Xi said, pledging to preside over "the comprehensive administration of the party with strict discipline."
Xi's rhetoric has led many to speculate that he is busy building a political persona for himself to rival that of Chairman Mao.
A source who gave only a surname Song said the new leadership appointments were widely predicted before they were announced.
"I had already predicted this lineup two or three days ago," Song said. "This is the end result of a mutual power struggle."
"Of course there has been horse-trading going on, for example, Xi's 'new era' thought was inscribed in the constitution, but actually [former president] Jiang Zemin had his own agenda, so there has naturally been a balancing of factional interests here," he said.
Song said that not everything appears to have gone the president's way.
"Apart from Li Zhanshu and Zhao Leji, the other four appointees haven't revealed their true colors yet," he said. "Wang Yang and Wang Huning aren't really Xi's men, so we can see Jiang's influence still in operation here."
Overseas rights activist Xiang Lin said Zhao's job is something of a poisoned chalice.
"[Zhao's predecessor] Wang Qishan has been going after corruption in a big way in the past few years, and this has created a huge backlash within party ranks," Xiang said. "Nobody knows whether they are coming or going."
"Zhao Leji is likely the only person who could balance out factional strife within the party; he is acceptable to all sides, and he is unlikely to go about it in the same way that Wang Qishan did," Xiang said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.