China has promoted one of its most senior female leaders to Communist Party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin, which the government is trying to turn into a global financial centre, state media said on Wednesday.
Sun Chunlan, 62, will move from the southeastern coastal province of Fujian, where she had been party boss since 2009, the official Xinhua news agency said in a brief statement. The appointment had been widely expected.
Sun is one of only two women on the Politburo, a 25-member body that is a mix of military and civilian leaders which reports to the party’s elite decision-making core, the seven-man Standing Committee.
She replaces Zhang Gaoli, who was last week raised to the Standing Committee following a once-every-five-year party congress that unveiled a generational leadership change.
Sun worked her way up through various factory jobs in China’s northeastern industrial heartland and spent time in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Liaoning province, where the then up-and-coming Bo Xilai also worked and with whom she reputedly clashed, sources say.
Bo, once a top contender for senior leadership, is currently being investigated for corruption and abuse of power after his wife murdered a British businessman.
Tianjin, about 30 minutes southeast of Beijing by high-speed train, was a lively trade centre in pre-Communist days, before becoming a backwater overshadowed by its close neighbour the Chinese capital.
But investment in Tainjin accelerated under Zhang’s leadership, which began in 2007.
In the past three years alone, Tianjin has seen more than US$160 billion in fixed asset investment in the development zone housing Yujiapu, billed as China’s Manhattan – almost three times the amount spent on China’s Three Gorges Dam, one of the nation’s most expensive projects.
Yujiapu helped Tianjin to record 16.4 per cent growth last year.
But critics see Tianjin as typical of the kind of debt-financed infrastructure splurges that have succeeded in getting politicians noticed inside China’s ruling Communist Party but have left behind mixed economic blessings.
They say the local government employed cheap state capital and high levels of debt to fund the goal of turning the port city into a global financial centre.