The Communist Party appointed an official from Tibet as the head of the Communist Youth League, a training ground for future party and government officials with nearly 80 million members.
The party's official website announced yesterday that 47-year-old Qin Yizhi , who has served as a vice-chairman of Tibet's regional government, had been appointed the league's first-ranked secretary.
His appointment indicates he could play a bigger role in China's leadership in the future, as most of his predecessors in the post have done so. It could also be a sign that former president Hu Jintao , is trying to strengthen his influence on the future leadership.
Hu, who stepped down as president last week, built his power base as head of the league and party chief of Tibet in the 1980s.
Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua , who is now one of the youngest members of the party's Politburo and widely considered a strong contender for the top leadership a decade from now, became a vice-chairman of Tibet's regional government in 2003 before becoming league head in 2006.
New Premier Li Keqiang , and the newly appointed president of China's highest court, Zhou Qiang , also served as league head in the '90s.
"China's top leaders are likely to appoint officials from the places that they are familiar with," said Professor Hu Xingdou , from Beijing Institute of Technology. "As an official with grass-roots experience in one of the most complicated regions, Qin appears to fit the pattern of promotion in Chinese officialdom." Professor Hu also said it was too early to say which political camp Qin belonged to.
Qin, who graduated from Tsinghua University in 1988, started working in Tibet in 2005 as the assistant to the regional chairman after working at a large state-owned steel plant in Sichuan province for years. He was party chief of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, from 2006 to 2011, before becoming a vice-chairman of the regional government.
Violence erupted in Lhasa in March 2008 during Qin's time as its party chief and spread to other Tibetan-populated areas.
Nineteen people died in the rioting in Lhasa.
Beijing-based Tibetan dissident writer Tsering Woeser said Qin was a hardline party official, and had consistently pushed for the government-sanctioned "patriotic education" of monks during his time in Tibet. "He was very tough on religious issues," she said.
"His promotion could give a very bad indication to the current Tibetan officials that only hardliners can get promoted."
Qin has replaced 45-year-old Lu Hao , another rising star, as league head. Lu is tipped to become governor of Heilongjiang province .
Lu, appointed in 2008 as one of the league's youngest heads, was a graduate student of Peking University professor Li Yining , one of the mainland's pioneers of market reform and the teacher of Li Keqiang and Vice-President Li Yuanchao , who was a league secretary in the late 1980s.