Chosen ones take the stage at party congress

Heirs apparent  Xi Jinping, left, and Li Keqiang.

Heirs apparent Xi Jinping, left, and Li Keqiang.
Photo: AFP

Mary-Anne Toy Herald Correspondent in Beijing
October 23, 2007

THERE were no surprises yesterday in the unveiling of the nine men who stand at the pinnacle of power in China.

The President, Hu Jintao, re-elected for his second and final term as Communist Party chief and head of the military, introduced four new members of the politburo's standing committee, including his heir apparent, Xi Jinping, the newly elevated Shanghai party boss.

Mr Xi, 54, who has a doctorate in economics and is the son of a party veteran who was the best friend of former leader Deng Xiaoping, led the newcomers on to the stage as the new committee, decided after the week-long 17th party congress, was introduced.

Li Keqiang, Mr Hu's personal favourite to take over when he retires in 2012, followed Mr Xi on stage, which was seen as a compromise forced on Mr Hu. Mr Xi is said to be acceptable to all party factions.

Mr Xi was described by the US Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, last year as "the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line". Depending on how manoeuvring goes over the next five years, Mr Xi would be expected to take over from Mr Hu as president, with Mr Li taking over from Wen Jiabao as premier. The two new heirs apparent were followed by the two other new members, both allies of party powerbroker Zeng Qinghong.

Mr Zeng, who resigned from the standing committee along with two other members on Sunday (another member, Huang Ju, died in office, leaving four vacancies), had reportedly agreed to step down if his two allies, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang, were promoted to the standing committee.

Mr Zeng, former president Jiang Zemin's hatchet man for years before he decided to back Mr Hu, was deemed the second most powerful man in China, although technically he ranked only fifth in the hierarchy. His influence is expected to continue.

The five re-elected members in order of seniority were Mr Hu, Wu Bangguo (chairman of the National People's Congress, the parliament), Premier Wen, Jia Qinglin (head of the People's Political Consultative Conference), and Li Changchun (head of propaganda and censorship).

Mr Wu, Mr Jia and Mr Li were considered Jiang Zemin allies but Mr Jia, who was party secretary of Fujian province in the 1990s during a multimillion-dollar smuggling scandal, is said by some to have been neutralised because his vulnerability on corruption allegations makes him more pliant to the Hu-Wen camp. His continued presence, considering Mr Hu's renewed emphasis on fighting party corruption, was another result of the consensus decision-making that is increasingly becoming the norm within the party.

There had been rumours that Mr Hu had wanted to reduce the all-powerful body back to seven members. It was enlarged to nine members at the previous congress in 2002, reportedly to accommodate Jiang allies.

The standing committee was chosen by the new 25-member politburo that was elected yesterday morning by the new 204-member central committee of the 17th party congress, which was itself elected on Sunday.

President Hu has committed to greater "intraparty democracy", to increase transparency and accountability and fight corruption within the Communist Party, through more use of elections to fill party and government positions, but he has made it clear that the purpose of such reforms are to ensure the party maintains its monopoly on power.