The pecking order of the Communist Party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee unveiled yesterday reflects three changes and gives the next premier greater authority.
The position of premier in the Politburo Standing Committee hierarchy returns to No 2 in the new line-up, going back to an old practice dropped 15 years ago.
When the new generation of leaders was unveiled to the assembled press, Li Keqiang, poised to take over from Wen Jiabao as premier in March, walked onto the stage right after Xi Jinping, the party's new general secretary.
After Li came Zhang Dejiang, who will take over as chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC).
The positioning harks back to the 14th party congress, in 1992, when Li Peng, then premier, was ranked No 2 in the Politburo Standing Committee, right after then-general secretary Jiang Zemin.
However, at the next congress in 1997, Zhu Rongji , who would take over as premier in several months, was ranked third in the Politburo Standing Committee. The second spot still went to Li, who was poised to step down from the premiership and become NPC chairman. This arrangement reflected Li's seniority. He had been on the Politburo Standing Committee for two terms, while Zhu had just been made a member.
Zhu's successor, Wen, also ranked third, with second spot going to NPC chairman Wu Bangguo .
The positioning of Li Keqiang as No2 reflects the rule of seniority, with Li now a two-term Politburo Standing Committee member and Zhang Dejiang newly admitted yesterday.
Observers said it also gave the future premier more authority and power in the decision-making process. Another notable change in the pecking order was the sixth-placed position of the party's disciplinary chief, Wang Qishan , who came before Zhang Gaoli , who is poised to take over as executive vice-premier.
Analysts said the move showed the party would crack down on corruption in the wake of the downfall of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai . The executive vice-premier's last-placed ranking would also make the premier more powerful, analysts said.
In his speech yesterday, Xi vowed to enforce strict disciplinary measures.
The third change in the new line-up was that the party's law and order chief will no longer be a Politburo Standing Committee member. Meng Jianzhu , expected to oversee China's security forces and law enforcement, is only a Politburo member.
Analysts said the change was made because the previous security tsar, Zhou Yongkang , who retired yesterday, had close ties with Bo Xilai.
"It is a good thing for the party apparatus as a whole for this position to be downgraded one level," said Nanjing University law professor Gu Su , adding that the previous arrangement gave the law-and-order chief too much power.
Additional reporting by Mimi Lau