18th Party Congress

Zhao Leji a man whose time has come

Shaanxi party secretary Zhao Leji's dedicated service in remote areas and a lack of factional affiliation could help him land personnel chief post

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 5:35am

Shaanxi party secretary Zhao Leji is a strong candidate to become the Communist Party's personnel chief following the leadership transition at its 18th national congress next month.

If the 55-year-old does succeed Li Yuanchao as head of the party's central organisation department he will also become a member of the party's powerful Politburo. And given his relative youth, that would put him in a prime position for membership of the party's Politburo Standing Committee in five years' time.

Various media and government sources in Xian have linked Zhao to several new positions this year, including central publicity department chief or party secretary of Sichuan, Tianjin, Chongqing or Xinjiang. Central organisation department head is the latest favourite.

Zhao will become a member of the Politburo if he secures any of those posts, except Sichuan party chief.

He was born into an intellectual family in Xining , the capital of northwestern Qinghai province, in 1957, but his ancestral home is Xian, Shaanxi province.

Zhao spent more than three decades ascending the political ladder in Qinghai after graduating from the philosophy department at Peking University in 1980. He was among the first batch of graduates after the Cultural Revolution.

In 2000, at the age of 42, he became governor of Qinghai and the youngest provincial-level star.

That early start has made him one of the most senior and experienced regional leaders, but it did not help him win a Politburo seat at the party's 17th national congress five years ago.

Zhao's failure to secure promotion in 2007 could have been due to his lack of a strong factional affiliation. But that might not be such a hindrance this time around.

Beijing-based political analyst Chen Ziming said that thanks to his relatively independent political background, Zhao had a good chance of landing the top job at the central organisation department.

"Unlike past practice, if you take a look at the recent power reshuffles among military officers and regional officials, you will see that those with weak or no associations with a particular political faction have obviously got their rewards this time," he said.

Chen said Zhao's long service in the remote, arduous and underdeveloped northwest could also stand him in good stead.

"Cadres with experience in backwaters such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Qinghai have been considered a strong suit for advancement since President Hu Jintao [a former Tibet party secretary] took the helm in 2002," Chen said.

However, Zhao has not won much favour with mainland and Hong Kong journalists.

In stark contrast to some of his more eloquent regional counterparts, the poker-faced Zhao remained largely silent in a group discussion on the sidelines of the meeting of the National People's Congress in March.

"As a so-called rising political star, Zhao's lethargy not only made the meeting boring but also spoiled his chance to show off his talents, if any, in front of domestic and foreign media," said a Hong Kong-based reporter who attended the session.

A Xian-based media source said Zhao's first meeting with the media as Shaanxi party secretary was also a disappointment.

"When he arrived in his new capacity as Shaanxi provincial party secretary and had his debut meeting with reporters in early 2007, everybody was earnestly looking forward to his remarks," the source said. "But he failed to make his inaugural speech before their deadlines expired."

He said the anti-climax had stunned most of the reporters at the meeting and had left editors with a lot of space and airtime to fill at the last minute.

"After keeping a close eye on Zhao for more than five-and-a-half years, I dare say that he has never delivered anything remarkable and cannot, at any rate, be regarded as a liberal-minded official," the source said.

Btu a local official in Shaanxi who declined to be named said Zhao had spared no effort in improving the livelihood of residents and developing the Xixian New Area. He had also handled the eviction of tens of thousands of residents of other areas well in recent years.

Xixian, named after its location between the cities of Xian and Xianyang, is the country's fourth new district, following Pudong in Shanghai, Binhai in Tianjin and Liangjiang in Chongqing. It enjoys a number of favourable policies, ranging from lower taxes to better land supply and easier access to financing in a bid to lure domestic and foreign investment.

Chen said if Zhao did become a Politburo member this year, his relative youth would give him the upper-hand in the race for further promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2017, when several members would be expected to retire.