President Xi Jinping was set to emerge from the event as party leader for an unprecedented third term

Beijing (AFP) - China’s Communist Party on Saturday endorsed Xi Jinping’s “core position” in the country’s leadership, all but assuring he will be handed an unprecedented third term in power.

At the end of the week-long gathering in Beijing, China’s ruling party approved a sweeping reshuffle that saw a number of top officials – including Premier Li Keqiang – step down, allowing Xi to appoint new allies.

The largely rubber-stamp meeting of among 2,300 party delegates was meticulously choreographed, with Xi determined to avoid any surprises as he enshrined his leadership for the next five years.

But in an unexpected move that punctured the proceedings at the Great Hall of the People, former leader Hu Jintao was led out of the closing ceremony. No official explanation was given.

Delegates then approved a call obliging all party members to “uphold Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole”, according to a unanimously passed resolution on changes to the party charter.

Xi is now all but certain to be unveiled as general secretary on Sunday, shortly after the first meeting of the new Central Committee.

This will allow Xi to sail through to a third term as China’s president, due to be announced during the government’s annual legislative sessions in March.

A new Central Committee of around 200 senior Party officials was elected shortly after before the closing ceremony.

Former president Hu Jintao was unexpectedly led out of the closing ceremony

A list of officials of the newly elected group revealed that four out of seven members of the Party’s Standing Committee – the apex of power – would retire.

Among them was current Premier Li Keqiang, as well as fellow Politburo Standing Committee members Wang Yang – who was touted as a possible successor to Li – Han Zheng, and Li Zhanshu.

Han and Li Zhanshu were widely expected to step down, having surpassed the informal age limit of 68 for Politburo-level officials – a requirement not extended to 69-year-old Xi.

Wang and Li Keqiang, both 67, could still have continued in the Standing Committee or 25-member Politburo for another five-year term.

Other high-profile Communist Party top brass absent from the new Central Committee include high-ranking diplomat Yang Jiechi and economic tsar Liu He.

- Rubber-stamping -

Analysts were closely watching for whether the charter would be amended to enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought” as a guiding philosophy, a move that would put Xi on a par with Mao Zedong.

Timeline of world-leaders during the time of the leardership of Xi Jinping, the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party.

That did not take place, though the resolution did call the creed “the Marxism of contemporary China and of the 21st century”, adding that it “embodies the best Chinese culture and ethos of this era”.

Xi previously abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to rule indefinitely.

The Congress effectively cemented Xi’s position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao.

“Xi’s power will be akin to that of the dictator of China, and there will be next to no scope for anyone to advise him to attempt course correction,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London.

One of the key questions outstanding is if Xi will appoint a potential successor to the Politburo Standing Committee. This could be answered on Sunday when the Standing Committee is unveiled.

Delegates also on Sunday enshrined into the party’s constitution opposition to Taiwanese independence. The party had always pledged to re-take the self-ruled democratic island, by force if necessary.