Shanghai, Guangdong party boss vacancies coming soon, but who’s got what it takes to fill them?

Speculation begins as early front-runners to take over in key economic centres now seemingly out of the contest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 12:49pm

After the Communist Party unveiled its new leadership line-up on Wednesday, the question now on everyone’s lips is who will become the new bosses of Guangdong province and Shanghai, China’s two most important economic centres.

The guessing game was made more complicated by the fact that the two people previously considered front runners for the positions – Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui and Shanghai mayor Ying Yong – failed to secure seats on the 25-member Politburo. In the past, the two jobs were usually held by Politburo members.

The current Shanghai party boss is Han Zheng, who is set to leave the post after being promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee where he will most likely serve as an executive vice-premier.

His opposite number in Guangdong, Hu Chunhua, is also expected to move on. Although he was not promoted to the Standing Committee he retained his seat on the Politburo and has been tipped to land a senior post within the central party or state apparatus.

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Since the early 1990s, most of the top boss in Shanghai and Guangdong has been a member of the Politburo, and it seems safe to assume that tradition will continue.

Of the body’s 25 members, seven serve on the Politburo Standing Committee, and are therefore ruled out as possible candidates. The remaining 18 comprise the heads of central party organs, State Council vice-premiers, vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, bosses of other important municipalities and provinces, and vice-chairs of the legislative and political advisory bodies.

Cases can be made for several of them to take over in Shanghai and Guangdong, not least Li Qiang and Li Xi, the current party bosses of Jiangsu and Liaoning provinces, respectively, both of whom are known to be allies of Xi Jinping.

Li Qiang was a top aide to the president during his time in Zhejiang province, while Li Xi once worked in Xi’s home province of Shaanxi.

“Guangdong and Shanghai party chiefs are very important appointments,” Wu Qiang, a political commentator in Beijing, said.

“Xi will first and foremost let his own men take up these positions, as we have seen in other crucial regional posts,” he added.

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Outside Guangdong and Shanghai, three other key regional posts have already been taken by Xi’ s allies.

Cai Qi, a Xi protégé for more than two decades, is the incumbent in Beijing; Chen Miner, who is widely seen as being groomed by Xi as a possible heir, took over in Chongqing in July after Sun Zhengcai’s fall from grace; while Li Hongzhong, who appears always to have a good word to say about his president, is the boss of Tianjin.

Experience in governing a municipality or key regions such as Shanghai or Guangdong is seen as useful in gaining promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee.

At 58 and 61, respectively, Li Qiang and Li Xi are both young enough to stay in the Politburo beyond the next congress. Others include Huang Kunming, 60, who will likely become the party’s propaganda chief, Xinjiang Party Chief Chen Quanguo, 61, and Beijing’s Cai and Tianjin’s Li, both at 61.

But only three people in the Politburo are young enough to become a successor to Xi: Hu Chunhua, 54, trusted Xi aide Ding Xuexiang, 55, and Chen Miner, 57.

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Other Politburo members who are mathematically young enough to serve beyond 2022 are Huang Kunming, 60, who is expected to become the party’s propaganda chief; Xinjiang party boss Chen Quanguo, 61; and Beijing and Tianjin bosses Cai and Li, both of whom are 61.

Not that being “young” is any guarantee of longevity in power, as was seen on Wednesday when three Politburo members lost their seats – as yet for reasons unknown – despite being under the generally accepted retirement age.

“Everyone agreed that the party and state’s leadership positions are not ‘iron chair’ or ‘iron hat’. Those who have not reached the retirement age will not necessarily continue to be nominated,” a Xinhua article published on Thursday said, citing unnamed officials.

“Instead, it should be primarily based on the candidates’ political performance, integrity and the needs of the cause. [They can] stay or be transferred, moved up or down.”