Li Yuanchao

Vice-president Li Yuanchao draws subdued welcome

Lacklustre welcome for Li Yuanchao perhaps reflects his less elevated status than predecessor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 5:27am

Yesterday's announcement that Li Yuanchao, a top ally of former president Hu Jintao , had been appointed vice-president was a much more low-key affair than when Xi Jinping, the new president, got the job five years ago.

Li, who failed to land a seat on the Communist Party's powerful Politburo Standing Committee last year, received tepid applause before sitting down somewhat awkwardly after bowing, blank-faced, to around 2,600 National People's Congress deputies in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

A day short of five years before, Xi was greeted with a bear hug from the man he succeeded, Zeng Qinghong, before shaking hands with Hu. Thunderous and lengthy applause followed.

Yesterday, Xinjiang regional party chief Zhang Chunxian, sitting to Li's right on the second row of the presidium, stretched out and shook hands with him, under the table. Meng Jianzhu , the top security official, and Chongqing party secretary Sun Zhengcai then shook hands with Li, also under the table.

Compared with his three immediate predecessors, Li, 62, will be more junior in the ruling hierarchy, wield less clout in the political arena and be less influential in decision-making.

However, he will still play various roles in state affairs, including a largely ceremonial role in foreign affairs, and be one of Beijing's top officials in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Li is a Politburo member while his predecessors, Hu, Zeng and Xi, were all members of the smaller, inner-most Politburo Standing Committee. He is the first person not a member of the Politburo Standing Committee to be appointed vice-president since 1993, when top banker and non-communist Rong Yiren was vice-president to Jiang Zemin .

The vice-presidency has been a powerful post since Hu ascended to the position in 1998, usually reserved for an anointed successor like Hu and Xi or a party elder like Zeng.

The three former vice-presidents also served concurrently as executive secretary of the party Central Committee's secretariat, and as president of the Central Party School, a training base for senior officials and the party's top think tank.

But those roles have now been assumed by new Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan.

Li will at least have plenty of chances to meet foreign visitors in that prestigious, if powerless, position from time to time

Li will play a leading role in an internal party group on the Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions and will assist Xi in China's diplomacy, with reports saying he will be appointed deputy head of an internal party group on foreign affairs.

Chen Ziming , a political affairs analyst, said the vice-presidency could be seen as a consolation prize for Li, following his surprising failure to secure a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee last year.

"Li will at least have plenty of chances to meet foreign visitors in that prestigious, if powerless, position from time to time," Chen said.

Still, the vice-presidency could promote Li's status in the 25-man Politburo, ranking him No8 in the hierarchy following the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee.