Liu Qibao, a close ally of President Hu Jintao, has been appointed the country's propaganda chief, with analyst saying they expect he will maintain the hardline press controls of his predecessor. Yesterday's tersely worded Xinhua announcement of Liu's appointment capped weeks of speculation that Liu Qibao, a former Sichuan party secretary, would succeed Liu Yunshan to become the director of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party's Central Committee. Liu Yunshan was elevated to the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee at the end of the 18th party congress and expected to retain responsibility for propaganda control as part of his portfolio. Liu Qibao, 59, a native of Susong county, Anhui province, spent more than a decade overseeing propaganda for his home province's branch of the Communist Youth League before being appointed secretary to the league's Central Committee, a key powerbase of Hu's. Notably, Liu also spent a year in the early 1990s as deputy chief editor of the party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily , a credential which likely contributed to his selection as the country's propaganda chief. Qiao Mu, a communications professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that Liu's promotion was a huge career boost that could pave the way for another promotion at the next party congress in five years. However Qiao said that Liu is likely to serve as enforcer for and sidekick to Liu Yunshan. His predecessor had similarly worked under former Communist Party propaganda tsar Li Changchun, who were paired to enact increasingly heavy-handed press controls. "I would say with some pessimism that media will be no freer under this pair because a media-savvy person tends to press harder on media freedoms because he knows better how it works," Qiao said. "On top of that, the new leadership is unlikely to lessen media control at least in the first two or three years, because younger leaders are less assertive of their rule than the previous administrations." The vacancy left by Liu Qibao will be filled by Wang Dongming, a native of Liaoning province, who has led the State Commission for Public Sector Reform, a central party committee organ in charge of policies on administrative reform and personnel affairs. Wang, 56, spent most of his earlier career in Liaoning and last served as the director of the provincial party committee's Organisation Department before his promotion to the central party department 12 years ago.