Three members of the Politburo are widely tipped to take over State Council positions after a government reshuffle in March next year.
The State Council is a cabinet-style body and Li Keqiang, the new face on the Politburo Standing Committee, is expected to become the council's executive vice-premier, filling the position left by Huang Ju, who died in June.
Politburo members Wang Qishan and Zhang Dejiang are leading contenders to take over council positions to be vacated by vice-premiers Zeng Peiyan and Wu Yi .
Academics and banking analysts said the arrival of the newcomers would herald more of the same in terms of policy - continued moderate political reform and an aggressive economic approach.
The State Council has one premier, Wen Jiabao, one executive vice-premier, formerly the late Huang Ju, and three vice-premiers - Wu Yi, overseeing health and trade, Zeng Peiyan in charge of industry, and Hui Liangyu, who covers agricultural issues. Top leaders are encouraged to retire at 68 and Ms Wu and Mr Zeng turn 70 next year.
Beijing-based political scientist Hu Xingdou said all the three promising candidates had provincial experience. 'They will take a steady approach, with creative thinking to lead China's reform drive,' he said.
Liaoning party chief Li Keqiang has a law degree and a PhD in economics from Peking University, one of the mainland's top educational institutions. His experience in Henan, a populous agricultural province, and in the northeast industrial hub of Liaoning gave him an understanding of agricultural, industrial and social affairs, Professor Hu said.
'Huang Ju rose from Shanghai, the city at the forefront of China's economic opening. Mr Li may not be as experienced as Huang in economic affairs but he's experienced in social affairs,' he said.
A series of disasters in Henan and Liaoning during Mr Li's tenures included two nightclub fires which together killed more than 370 people, factory blazes and coal mine explosions. Liaoning has numerous social problems resulting from the restructuring of state-owned enterprises, retrenchments and land disputes.
With proven capabilities in finance, sitting Politburo member and Beijing mayor Wang Qishan may be promoted to take over from retiring vice-premier Zeng Peiyan, banking and academic sources said.
Wang Yukai, of the National School of Administration, said: 'If Mr Wang becomes a vice-premier it means that China wants better co-ordination between finance departments. It would improve the co-operation between the banking, securities and insurance sectors.'
Lehman Brothers' economist Mingchun Sun said: 'Wang Qishan has a solid track record in handling financial affairs. He proved his mettle in his previous jobs.'
Mr Wang was deputy head of the central bank, deputy chief of China Construction Bank and later helped clean up the financial mess from the collapse of the Guangdong International Trust and Investment Corporation, which left US$2 billion in debts. Sources also suggested that Guangdong party secretary Zhang Dejiang would take over from Vice-Premier Wu Yi, the iron woman who impressed the world in helping China deal with trade rows with the US.
Professor Hu said: 'I believe Mr Zhang is capable of handing economic matters because Guangdong is China's richest province. He should improve his public image after the negative reports on his handling of land disputes and develop his abilities in international affairs.
'The three people are qualified for the positions. But their power as individuals is limited as China's development mode has been fixed by the party's top leadership. There will be no big policy changes.'
Additional reporting by Martin Zhou
The party has an unwritten rule that top leaders retire at 68