Xi Jinping

Summer Games' success may clear the way for rising star

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am

Xi Jinping has moved closer to becoming China's top leader with his appointment as vice-president and his responsibility for overseeing the Olympics, which Beijing has made a national priority.

Assuming that he manages the Summer Games with his typical aplomb, he appears nearly certain to take over from Communist Party General Secretary and President Hu Jintao when the latter steps down in five years.

Mr Xi, a 'princeling' whose father was a communist revolutionary, is trusted by Mr Hu, even though his privileged background might otherwise have put him at odds with the leader. Mr Xi also has ties to former party chief and president Jiang Zemin of the so-called Shanghai Gang - made up of current and former leaders from that city - which has previously clashed with the present administration.

Mr Xi, 54, served for less than a year as Shanghai party secretary, a transitional stop before his appointment as a member of the party's powerful Standing Committee last October. He was seen as the ideal compromise candidate for Shanghai party chief, a post he took last March after his predecessor was sacked for corruption.

His famous father, Xi Zhongxun , was an ally of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping . The elder Xi is said to have stood by Hu Yaobang , the former party chief who was forced to step down in 1987 for supporting pro-democracy protests by students the previous year.

To the Shanghai man in the street, Mr Xi remained largely a mystery. He maintained a low profile while in the city and was overshadowed by his famous wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan , and his late father, who once served as a vice-premier.

While in Shanghai, he stressed co-operating with other provinces in the Yangtze River delta area, given his previous experience as party chief of nearby Zhejiang province . He could also claim credit for the successful hosting of the Special Olympics in Shanghai, which provided a test run for the Olympics.

Mr Xi's wife is known for revolutionary operas and patriotic songs like On the Land of Hope, popular in the 1980s. The likely future first lady lent her star power to the mainland's first major television campaign to curb the spread of HIV/Aids, launched in December.

Mr Xi reveals little emotion in public, preferring to listen. A family friend told The Times newspaper: 'He is a neutral person who has always avoided showing any strong political opinions, neither supporting or opposing people or their policies openly. He is not someone with great charisma, neither will he cause any harm.' Mr Xi is a native of Shaanxi province , where his father was said to have welcomed Mao Zedong at the end of the Long March in 1935. He graduated from famed Tsinghua University, also Hu Jintao's alma mater, studying chemical engineering.