Li Ruihuan the latest retired party heavyweight to appear in public
Former top party official Li Ruihuan made a rare public appearance in Beijing at the weekend, joining a long list of retired political heavyweights who appear keen to reassert their influence ahead of next month's once-a-decade transfer of power.
The party's 18th national congress is scheduled to open on November 8. The reappearance of Li - who ranked fourth in the party hierarchy for a decade until his retirement in 2003 - at the China Open tennis-singles finals on Sunday raised eyebrows.
He was accompanied by former vice-premier Wu Yi, but what made Li's appearance different from the recent resurfacing of other party elders, including former president Jiang Zemin, was that he was accompanied by incumbent officials. They included Beijing party chief Guo Jinlong, a close ally of President Hu Jintao , and the capital's mayor, Wang Anshun.
Analysts said Li, 78, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference between 1993 and 2003, had also received unusual treatment from the semi-official China News Service, which ran a photo of Li, Guo and Wang together at the finals.
By contrast, when Jiang, 86, showed up last month at a concert at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, no incumbent officials were seen around him. And the public did not learn about the appearance of the former president and party chief, who appears to have recovered from a serious illness last year that fed rumours about his death, until overseas Chinese websites broke the news two days later.
Jiang was accompanied by former vice-president Zeng Qinghong , his closest protégé, former vice-premiers Li Lanqing and Zeng Peiyan, and his chief bodyguard, General You Xigui, former director of the Central Guard Bureau.
"Apparently, Li is no different from other former leaders when it comes to their desire to make their existence and lingering clout felt, even after their retirement, and call the shots from behind the scenes," said Dai Qing, a veteran journalist and writer.
Dai said the frequent appearances of party elders, who held no official posts after their retirement, were aimed at boosting support for party factions under their stewardship. Li is regarded as being close to Hu and a rival of Jiang.
Many analysts say that incumbent and retired leaders may not have finalised key decisions on the new leadership line-up, the broad outline of the future or, arguably most importantly, how to deal with the trial of ex-Politburo member Bo Xilai.