A Jiang Zemin loyalist is poised to become the next foreign minister, replacing Qian Qichen.
Tang Jiaxuan who, like Mr Jiang, comes from Jiangsu, has been Vice-Foreign Minister since 1993.
Mr Qian, 69, yesterday confirmed he would be stepping down from the Foreign Ministry during the current NPC session. 'The Foreign Minister is a difficult job. My age means I am no longer suitable for this job and I am going to step down.' However, political analysts said Mr Qian would keep his more senior positions of Politburo member and Vice-Premier until 2002 and 2003 respectively.
He will continue to be the Politburo member in charge of foreign affairs and Taiwan and Hong Kong affairs.
It is understood President Jiang is extremely happy with the performance of Mr Qian, who is credited with restoring relations with Western countries after the June 4 crackdown.
Mr Tang, 60, specialises in Asian politics and is head of the party committee of the Foreign Ministry.
A Western diplomat said Mr Tang was a suave diplomat who had enjoyed the patronage of President Jiang.
'His only drawback is his relative lack of experience in dealing with major countries such as the US and Russia,' the diplomat said.
'This explains the reservations that some Politburo members have in promoting him to foreign minister.' The diplomat said that until earlier this year, the decision had been that Mr Qian should hold the Foreign Minister's position for one more year before handing over to Mr Tang.
Political analysts in Beijing revealed that Mr Tang had edged out another possible candidate for the job, head of the State Council Foreign Affairs Office, Liu Huaqiu, 59.
Mr Liu, an expert on the US, is considered to have broader diplomatic experience than Mr Tang.
Both Mr Tang and Mr Liu were made members of the party Central Committee last September.