China's congress elects Xi allies to key government roles

China's National People's Congress on Sunday elected four officials who are close to President Xi Jinping to key government posts.

Ding Xuexiang, 60, the ruling Communist Party's No.6 official and a member of the party's Politburo Standing Committee, was chosen as the first-ranked vice premier.

He Lifeng, 68, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, has replaced Liu He as the next economic chief and was tapped to be another vice premier.

Both officials are long-time allies of Xi and accompany him on nearly all domestic and international visits.

Yi Gang, 65, was retained as governor of the People's Bank of China and Liu Kun, 66, as finance minister. Both men had been expected to retire as the usual retirement age is 65. Observers said growing concerns about China's sluggish real estate market and soaring local government debts likely played a role in keeping the two in their posts.

Foreign Minister Qin Gang was elected as one of the state councilors, equivalent to vice premiers, just two months after he took office in his ministerial role. His predecessor Wang Yi spent five years as foreign minister before he was elected as a state councilor. Qin served as a spokesperson for his ministry, and is believed to be close to Xi.

Xi's allies now hold key posts in the government, in addition to roles in his party and the military.