A group of top cadres meeting ahead of the National People's Congress is deciding whether Guangdong party chief Li Changchun will be promoted to vice-premier.
Politburo members and senior cadres are finalising personnel and other matters to be tabled at the NPC, the highest law-making body.
The most controversial item on their agenda is whether to move a motion to promote Mr Li.
Other topics include the tactics that Politburo members should use to persuade NPC members to give full backing to projects including the development of the western provinces.
A party source said in Beijing yesterday that President Jiang Zemin thought Mr Li should be elevated at this plenary legislative session.
'Jiang does not want to wait until the NPC session in March 2001,' the source said. 'He wants Li to ultimately become premier. And when Premier Zhu Rongji retires in 2003, Li's chances will be higher if by then he will have served three years as vice-premier.' The official media yesterday highlighted Mr Li's credentials. China News Service ran an interview with Mr Li in which he said he had ample experience running industrial, agricultural and coastal provinces.
For example, Mr Li said he was instrumental in moving heavy industry in Liaoning province towards the marketplace. And he was able to foster both 'material and spiritual civilisations' in Guangdong.
Opposition to Mr Li's rise has come from politicians outside of Mr Jiang's so-called 'mainstream faction' such as Li Ruihuan.
Mr Li Ruihuan is a Politburo member as well as head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
A respected liberal, Mr Li Ruihuan has used the CPPCC as a base to spread his populist politics. He has stressed the need to 'institutionalise the process of listening to the people'.
During a recent trip to Zhejiang province, Mr Li Ruihuan seemed to have distanced himself from Mr Jiang when talking to local cadres.
'What is politics?' he asked the officials. 'It means uniting as many people as possible. And what is prestige? It consists of making people happy and gaining their support.' Analysts said Mr Li Ruihuan was indirectly criticising Mr Jiang's 'small-circle politics' or his tendency to only take care of the interests of the Shanghai Faction or Jiang Zemin Faction.