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President Xi Jinping secured a third term as the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and unveiled a new leadership team packed with loyalists while also removing former rivals as the Chinese leader further solidifies his grip on power, the Financial Times reported.

The ruling CCP’s 20th congress ended Saturday with Xi receiving another term as General Secretary of the party. The Chinese leader said during the event that China’s “strong fundamentals will not change,” noting that the country’s very strict “zero Covid” strategy to curb the spread of the virus will continue – despite it causing a slowdown in the economy.

The congress’ final day made headlines around the world when Xi’s predecessor, former President Hu Jintao, was firmly escorted off the leadership rostrum. State media initially did not report the episode but later said that Hu was having some health issues and needed to rest.

The closing sessions also unveiled the new leadership of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, which saw the exit of Premier Li Keqiang and Wang Yang. Li, a former protégé of Hu, has been largely sidelined by Xi over the past decade.

Four new members were added to the new committee, including Shanghai party head Li Qiang who is likely to replace Li Keqiang as premier.

Li Qiang presided during China’s worst Covid-19 outbreak in March, with his administration imposing a harsh lockdown that crushed economic activity in one of China’s most prosperous regions.

Meanwhile, Xi replaced half of the CCP’s 24-member politburo with individuals who previously worked for him when he was a mid-career provincial party official. No women were appointed to the politburo, breaking with the tradition of naming one female cadre to the group.

Political analysts noted that the appointments constituted “quite a show of force by Xi,” and “showcases to everyone that loyalty rather than popularity is the key.”

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