Beijing has announced new appointments to the top party posts overseeing personnel matters and public security, marking the start of a sweeping reshuffle of senior party and government officials after the unveiling of the party's new leadership line-up last week.
In the first top-level reshuffle since the Communist Party's 18th national congress, which ushered in a new generation of party leaders, Shaanxi party chief Zhao Leji, 55, a rising star who was elevated to the Politburo last week, has replaced Li Yuanchao as head of the party's powerful Organisation Department.
Yesterday's brief Xinhua dispatch did not identify Li's new portfolio. Li, 62, a protégé of the soon-to-retire President Hu Jintao , lost his bid for a seat on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power. But he has been widely tipped to instead become vice-president in March. In that post he is likely to oversee Hong Kong and Macau affairs.
In another widely expected announcement, public security minister Meng Jianzhu, 65, became the country's new security tsar, taking over from the former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang .
Analysts said Zhou's replacement by Meng, a newcomer to the 25-strong Politburo, effectively signalled the downgrading of the party's Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees the mainland's judiciary, prosecutors and police, and had become extremely powerful under Zhou.
Zhou, 70 next month, has been rumoured to have close ties with the ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai , whose spectacular downfall early this year unleashed the worst political crisis to hit the country in decades and exposed conflicts within the top leadership.
Analysts said the change at the top of the Organisation Department showed that a generational political shake-up was now under way and would continue until the annual session of the National People's Congress in March.
Given Zhao's relative youth and the sensitivity of his new post - a job usually given to one of the top leadership's most trusted allies - he has emerged as one of the country's fastest-rising stars.
Li's absence from the downsized Politburo Standing Committee was one of the biggest surprises in the once-a-decade leadership succession.
The failure of Li and another Hu ally, Wang Yang , to make the seven-strong top table was widely seen as a defeat for Hu, who appears to have lost out to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin , in power plays to promote their own supporters.
Echoing the mainland public, many analysts welcomed the leadership's move to slash the power of the party's law and order body, which has been frequently criticised for its crackdowns on rights activists, lawyers and petitioners in the name of maintaining stability.
Professor Kerry Brown, a specialist in Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, said: "In any case, this sort of line-up is at the very least a very big rebuke to Zhou, who has truly been a disaster for 1.3 billion Chinese people."