China's new leadership is already picked

Thursday, January 10, 2002

South China Mail Post


New faces: Hu Jintao is to become president and Zeng Qinghong his deputy. The new Chinese leadership has already been decided, months ahead of the 16th Communist Party Congress, mainland sources and Western diplomats say. President Jiang Zemin - who will step aside for Hu Jintao - plans to make his closest protege, Zeng Qinghong, vice-president.

Chinese sources say the list of appointments has been completed and is unlikely to change before the congress convenes. "We have also heard that it has all been decided," agreed a Western diplomat in Beijing. "There's even a suggestion to bring the congress forward to July, but it is more likely to be September."

The reshuffle will see Mr Jiang give up the presidency and his position as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in favour of Mr Hu. As expected, Mr Jiang will retain the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission, as Deng Xiaoping did when he handed power to Mr Jiang in 1989. Mr Hu's positions, as director of the Central Party School and Vice-President, will be taken by Mr Zeng, who will get a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee.

About 10 days ago, Mr Hu and Mr Zeng co-chaired a meeting in Beijing on party personnel matters, indicating both men had been put in charge of the reshuffle ahead of the congress. According to sources, former premier Li Peng will retire after five years as Chairman of the National People's Congress. He will be replaced by Li Ruihuan, a relatively liberal member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Li Ruihuan's position as chairman of the second parliamentary body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, will be taken by 68-year-old Li Lanqing, a close associate of Mr Jiang who has lately achieved a high media profile. Premier Zhu Rongji will also formally retire from his posts and be succeeded by Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao.

However, several sources said Mr Zhu could still be asked to stay on as an adviser to the State Council in some form. Mr Zhu has said several times he would step down in 2003 when his premiership ends. The new line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee - which currently has seven members - would include Mr Hu, Mr Wen, Li Ruihuan, Li Lanqing and Mr Zeng. Li Peng is said to be pushing for the promotion of his follower, Luo Gan, now running the Communist Party's legal and security apparatus, into the Standing Committee. But Mr Li's influence is said to be waning. A favourite of President Jiang, Li Changchun - currently the party secretary of Guangdong - is likely to join the wider Politburo and may be named a vice-premier in 2003.

"In general they want to keep the same equilibrium among the factions in the new Politburo as in the old one," a Western analyst said. Vice-Premier Wu Bangguo is likely to stay on in the Politburo but appears to be out of the race for promotion. Another key development at the 16th Party Congress is the likely elevation of Jiang Mianheng, the eldest son of President Jiang, to the presidency of the China Academy of Sciences and a seat in the Central Committee. Mr Jiang is also believed to be considering how to respond to suggestions that there should be more visible female politicians at the top.

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