18th Party Congress

Top adviser Wang Huning tipped to become vice-premier, enter Politburo

Sources say Wang Huning is expected to become vice-premier and gain entrance into Politburo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 4:21am

A trusted adviser to both Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao will probably become the vice-premier in charge of China's diplomatic affairs after the upcoming leadership transition, sources say.

The selection of Wang Huning, a former academic who heads the party's Policy Research Office, would indicate Beijing's desire to revamp its foreign policy apparatus, which has on occasion suffered from a lack of co-ordination between offices.

It is expected Wang, 57, will be elevated to the 25-seat Politburo after the Communist Party's 18th national congress, which opens on November 8.

The twin promotions would give the country's top diplomat greater authority, something seen as lacking as China's global influence grows.

Neither Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to the US, nor State Councillor Dai Bingguo, the government's foreign policy mastermind, currently sit on the Politburo.

"The adjustment to let a vice-premier lead diplomatic affairs has been boosted by the apparent need to overhaul the country's foreign policy and its policymaking apparatus," said a source familiar with the discussion.

"The fact that Chinese leaders appear to be taking more interest in foreign affairs, especially their growing keenness to get international media exposure, also means the leadership will attach an ever greater importance to foreign policy structure."

The lack of seniority for current diplomats, Yang and Dai in particular, is seen as having undercut their ability to co-ordinate actions with other diplomatic players. Recent diplomats have been seen as merely implementing orders from their bosses on high, as opposed to proactively making suggestions.

Giving a vice-premier responsibility for diplomacy would represent a return to past practice. Zhou Enlai served as foreign minister during his first decade as premier. His tenure was followed by that of Chen Yi and Ji Pengfei , who were both vice-premiers while running the Foreign Ministry.

The last vice-premier to serve as foreign minister was Qian Qichen . Since he left the Foreign Ministry in 1998, the top diplomatic job has been held by figures of lower seniority.

Sources said Wang, a low-key official frequently seen by Hu's side, was well suited for the diplomatic post because he has already played a significant role in shaping state leaders' policy direction.Until the mid-1990s, Wang focused mainly on academic work, including stints running the international politics and law departments at Fudan University. He studied French at Shanghai Normal University in the mid-1970s and was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1980s.

Wang's ability to thrive within Jiang's "Shanghai gang" as well as Hu's Communist Youth League-dominated administration suggests that he has already established strong relationships across the political spectrum. "His political alignment and his heavy involvement in decision-making also make him stand out," another diplomatic source said.

Wang's background - fluent in French and a visiting scholar at two US universities - familiarised him with Western politics.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun is tipped to replace Yang.