A leading China watcher yesterday voiced confidence in the three members of the Politburo who are widely expected to become vice-premiers overseeing economy-related portfolios.
Pei Minxin, director of the China Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told a post-party congress seminar in Hong Kong he believed the new team would be 'as strong as, if not stronger' than the team it will replace.
It is expected that Li Keqiang , a new face on the Politburo Standing Committee, will become the State Council's executive vice-premier to fill the vacancy left by Huang Ju , who died in June, while Politburo members Wang Qishan and Zhang Dejiang will take over from vice-premiers Zeng Peiyan and Wu Yi .
Professor Pei told the seminar, organised by the Asia Society, that although Mr Li might lack 'central-level' experience because his previous experience in the central government was running the Communist Youth League and he had mainly worked in Hunan and Liaoning , he understood economics better than his predecessor. 'If you compare him with his predecessor, Huang Ju was sick most of the time ... and on top of that Li Keqiang at least had some formal economics training,' he said.
The Liaoning party chief has a law degree and a PhD in economics from Peking University.
Professor Pei said Mr Zhang was a 'skilled administrator at the local level' whose toughest challenge would be to establish his international credibility because 'Wu Yi is almost irreplaceable given her experience, her leadership and international credibility'.
He said Mr Wang, currently the Beijing mayor, was the 'brightest star' because he was 'slated as China's chief economic planner and is well-experienced in the financial sector. He was instrumental in China's rural economic reform and also had a very good record of running Guangdong province, and of course he was what I would call one of [former premier] Zhu Rongji's fire-fighters. Whenever there's any trouble, he would dispatch Wang Qishan,' he said.
Another speaker, Yang Dali, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said people should not expect anything new from Xi Jinping and Mr Li - the youngest of the four new members of the Politburo Standing Committee - who have been described as being locked in a two-horse race for the country's top post in five years' time, because they would work hard to carry out the central leadership's orders.
Fellow speaker Wang Shaoguang , a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the important decisions made at the party's 17th National Congress would endure for the next 15 years because while the next five years would be a training session for Mr Xi and Mr Li, they would serve for two more terms after that, thus ensuring the stability of the leadership.