China's top minister in charge of state-sector reforms, Sheng Huaren, is expected to step down before the upcoming session of the National People's Congress (NPC). The State Economic and Trade Commission Minister will be replaced by his deputy, Li Rongrong. His departure is expected to be part of a wider cabinet-level reshuffle the central Government is likely to announce during the NPC session. The Minister of Science and Technology, Zhu Lilan, 66, is also expected to step down, having passed the retirement age of 65. It remains unclear who will replace her. The pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po yesterday reported the leadership reshuffle at the State Economic and Trade Commission was expected to be made before the NPC opens its annual session next Monday. The report indirectly confirmed speculation that Premier Zhu Rongji had been dissatisfied with the performance of Mr Sheng over the past three years and was considering removing him. But yesterday's report said Mr Sheng, 66, was expected to leave the post because of 'age reasons'. Quoting sources, the newspaper said Mr Li, the executive vice-minister, was expected to become ministry head. Mr Li, 56, is widely deemed as a protege of Mr Zhu and a rising star in the new leadership expected to take control after the party congress next year. A Shanghai native, Mr Li was made deputy minister of the ministry in 1996. He was later appointed vice-minister of the State Development and Planning Commission in 1998. He was made Executive Vice-Minister of the ministry in January last year. There has been speculation that Mr Zhu moved him back to the ministry to prepare him to replace Mr Sheng. Mr Sheng, a Jiangsu native, worked for the state oil giant Sinopec for decades, becoming general manager in 1990.