HONG KONG—Wang Yang, the charismatic party secretary of Guangdong, China’s most industrialized province and export powerhouse, is to be replaced by Hu Chunhua, the fast-rising party chief of Inner Mongolia.
The changes in China’s provincial leadership follow the unveiling in November of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, China’s highest decision-making body. Wang, 57, was overlooked for promotion to the standing committee, but he is still expected to be appointed to a senior post in the central government.
Wang oversaw a tumultuous period of economic change and labor activism in the populous southern Chinese province, adjacent to Hong Kong, where he took over as party secretary in 2007. He responded to a wave of wildcat strikes in Guangdong in the summer of 2010 by pushing for negotiations with the young workers rather than a crackdown, as had been the pattern in the past.
Hu, 49, a former construction worker, is part of the so-called sixth generation of leaders and is expected to join the standing committee in 2017. Many analysts have identified him as a front-runner to replace Xi Jinping as the country’s president in 2022.
His appointment underlines the importance of Guangdong, a laboratory for economic reform since the country began the journey to a market economy three decades ago. This was reinforced earlier this month with a visit by Xi, China’s new party chief, to the province, where he endorsed the reforms started by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping three decades ago.
Unlike many of China’s leaders who are the children of former leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu’s family had a harder childhood. He walked 8 miles to school in his native Hubei. Before he was party chief in the fast-growing province of Inner Mongolia, Hu was the most powerful official in Tibet between 1988 and 1992.
Just over a year ago, Wang’s diplomatic skills were tested when the rebellious villagers of Wukan withstood an 11-day siege by local police after protesting against land grabs by corrupt local officials. He dispatched a trusted lieutenant to defuse the crisis and paved the way for village elections in March. Both episodes highlighted what Wang referred to as steering the more questioning younger generation of his province rather than directing them.
Shen Yachuan, editor of Southern Weekly, a respected local magazine, said in a blog post Tuesday: “His capability to deal with crisis can be hardly matched among officials above the provincial level.” However, Shen went on to criticize the crackdown on the traditionally feisty local media during Wang’s tenure as party secretary. His post was subsequently deleted.
Wang repeatedly pushed for Guangdong to move up the value chain from being the factory floor of the world to being a center for technology and innovation. “We don’t sell our sweat anymore,” he declared grandly earlier this month. “We sell our knowledge.” Local academics say the success of this transformation was mixed, despite the fact that a large network of electronics factories operates in and around Shenzhen.
Last week, on a tour of the southern province that harked back to one made by the late Deng two decades ago, Xi visited a design center and research institute in a vote of confidence in Wang’s leadership.
“Xi showed his support for Wang Yang and set the tone for Hu Chunhua,” said Peng Peng, an academic with the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences.
Wang and Hu share another common trait, unusual among Chinese leaders: Neither appears to dye his hair.
— Financial Times
Zhou Ping in Hong Kong contributed to this report.