China Ushers Into Position Its Next Era Of Leaders
Monday, October 22, 2007
BEIJING, Oct. 22 -- Xi Jinping, the son of a Chinese guerrilla leader who rose through the ranks to become Communist Party chief in business-friendly Shanghai, was designated Monday as the most likely successor to President Hu Jintao as leader of the world's most populous nation.
Xi, 54, a Ph. D. in economics, was the highest ranked of four newcomers in a new Politburo Standing Committee, the pinnacle of power in China's Communist system. The nine-man group, including Hu and four other holdovers, was unveiled at a ritual introductory appearance before journalists following its acclamation by the new Central Committee that emerged Sunday from the party's week-long 17th National Congress.
At Hu's direction, each stepped forward and waved to the cameras, the newcomers smiling nervously, the veterans seeming more assured.
Xi's ranking on the Standing Committee, according to long-standing tradition, signaled that he was the favorite to replace Hu at the next party congress in 2012, which will mark the end of Hu's second five-year term as president and party leader -- and his probable retirement. But analysts warned that, whatever the lineup now, things could change over the next five years in the bureaucratic elbowing likely to play out behind the walls of Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound in Beijing.
Ranked just behind Xi among the newcomers on the Standing Committee was Li Keqiang, another Ph.D.-holder who is party secretary of Liaoning province in northeastern China. Li, 52, worked under Hu in the Communist Youth League two decades ago and was considered Hu's personal favorite as heir apparent.
Xi's emergence instead was interpreted as a sign of Hu's inability to simply point a figure to designate a successor in the style of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping. In the current era, analysts pointed out, transfer of power in China has become a question of negotiations and alliances, forcing Hu to balance competing interests among party barons, including former president and party leader Jiang Zemin and his loyalists.
But both of the top-ranked newcomers seemed cast in the same die as Hu, with long bureaucratic careers marked by prudence rather than boldness. In introducing them, Hu noted only their age, signaling they were to be seen as the rising generation. As a result, the party's choices seemed to indicate a desire to stick to the course it has followed under Hu, cautiously pursuing the economic reforms set in motion three decades ago but holding tight to the party's monopoly on political power.
The other two newcomers on the Standing Committee are He Guoqiang, who manages party personnel, and Zhou Yongkang, who has commanded the Public Security Ministry.
As part of the weeks of personnel negotiations, three of the party's most powerful leaders agreed to retire to make way for the new blood, the party announced Sunday. They are Vice President Zeng Qinghong, 68; Wu Guanzheng, 69, and Luo Gan, 72. The three were not only members of the outgoing Central Committee but also of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, putting them among the nine most powerful men in China.
Zeng, the vice president and former rocket scientist, earned a reputation as a master of such maneuvering in the party bureaucracy during his long career. The son of a Communist revolutionary leader, he was identified as a follower of Jiang Zemin, Hu's predecessor as president and party secretary. But he nevertheless forged a smooth working relationship with Hu and helped him cement his hold on power over the five years of his first term.
Wu, who appeared to have a sneer fixed permanently on his face, was in charge of party discipline, a post that made him responsible for fighting the corruption that has eroded the party since the economy was liberalized over the past three decades. Luo, whose oversized glasses gave him a bookish look, was in charge of law enforcement and oversaw China's widely feared security services, in particular the Public Security Bureau.
The three retirees were saluted by delegates to the congress for the "breadth of their political vision and sterling integrity," New China News Agency reported.
Other figures not included in the new Central Committee are Vice Premier Wu Yi, the only woman in the outgoing Politburo and a frequent contact for U.S. officials; Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan; and Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan, who handled industrial policies.
Five of the nine members of the outgoing Standing Committee remained in place. In order of seniority, they are Hu, 64, who is party leader as well as president; Wu Bangguo, chairman of the People's National Congress, or legislature; Premier Wen Jiabao; Jia Qinglin, who runs the People's Consultative Conference, a party outreach assembly; and Li Changchun, who manages party propaganda and censorship.
Wu, 66, Jia, 67, and Li, 63, have long been considered allies of Jiang, who in retirement retains considerable influence in the party bureaucracy. The decision to keep them on the Standing Committee reflected the flexibility and conciliation that has been a hallmark of Hu's career.
Jia's continuing service in particular drew attention. In addition to his identification with Jiang, he was party secretary of Fujian province in the 1990s during a multimillion-dollar smuggling scandal. Jia's wife, Lin Youfang, ran the province's main state-run import-export company at the time, leading some Chinese officials to question whether Jia himself might have been involved.
At a time when the party has proclaimed a nationwide battle against corruption, Jia's presence among the party's most senior leaders sends the wrong signal, Chinese analysts have suggested.