A KEY protege of Chinese Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji, Lou Jiwei, has been appointed Vice-Governor of Guizhou province. In what political analysts see as a sign of the expanding clout of the economic tzar, Mr Zhu is also installing other associates in regional positions. The analysts said President Jiang Zemin, under fire from the party's hardline and liberal factions, is anxious to secure Mr Zhu's backing in the power struggle likely to intensify after the death of Deng Xiaoping. The favourable turn in Mr Zhu's political fortune could also mean that he could retain a substantial party or government position after the 15th party congress of late 1997. Mr Lou, in his early 40s, is a former head of the Department of Macro-Economics of the State Commission for Restructuring the Economy. He comes from a politically influential family that includes a sister who is the wife of a vice-minister of the State Economics and Trade Commission. Mr Lou belongs to a select group of young economists and social scientists who make up Mr Zhu's think-tank. Other members of the brains trust include Li Jiange, a vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission; Guo Shuqing, the head of the Department of General Planning at the State Commission on Restructuring the Economy; and Wu Xiaoling, head of policy research at the People's Bank of China. A Chinese source said Li Jiange was considering an offer of the job of vice-governor of a prosperous southern province. Mr Zhu had already installed a number of his more senior associates in ministerial positions, including the Governor of the People's Bank of China, Dai Xianglong. 'Zhu's ability to extend his influence to the provinces bodes well for his staying power beyond the 15th party congress,' he said. 'This is despite the fact that at 67, he is due to retire soon after the congress.' While Guizhou, a poor province in southwest China, is not considered an important area, Mr Lou's appointment has special significance owing to a spate of corruption cases there. The scandals led to the execution of the wife of a former party secretary and the imprisonment of at least two senior members of the provincial public security establishment. 'The entire Guizhou bureaucracy has been demoralised, and the economic performance of the province has worsened,' said a local source. 'Lou's appointment is a big test of his skills. If he can turn things around, he's due for a major promotion a few years later.' Political observers in Beijing said a power struggle had shaped up within the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, with Mr Jiang and premier Li Peng pitched against National People's Congress Chairman Qiao Shi and the Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Li Rui-huan. Mr Jiang must secure the support of the three other members - Mr Zhu, General Liu Huaqing, and organisation chief Hu Jintao - to ensure his predominance.