BEIJING - Just before the start of the Lunar New Year celebrations on Monday, an important political event took place in China.
Huang Xingguo, a close aide to President Xi Jinping and acting party secretary of Tianjin, appeared before the media for the first time since a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse in the port city south of Beijing killed or injured nearly 1,000 people. He broke his silence on Jan. 8 with a bold statement at a meeting of local officials.
"We must protect General Secretary Xi at all costs," Huang said, calling him he xin ("the core"). In short, Huang's words are an acknowledgement that Xi has abandoned the party's collective approach to leadership, putting himself in complete control.
Huang owes his position to Xi, whom he served when Xi ran Zhejiang Province. Although his career was tarnished by the Tianjin explosion, Huang, with his fulsome praise for the president in January, repaid his debt to his patron. A big unanswered question is whether Huang will be promoted at next year's Communist Party Congress.
The history of China's ruling party is marked by the struggles of its top officials to become the he xin. In 1989, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping appointed Jiang Zemin, seen as a dark horse in the leadership race, as general secretary in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
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