China's leadership reshuffle 2017: Appointments
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Vehicles travel on a bridge over the Yangtze River in Wuhan, Hubei province April 2, 2015. Picture taken April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

Ally of President Xi Jinping parachuted in to senior post in Hubei

During his time in Wenzhou, Chen Yixin saved the city from an economic crisis, but led a campaign of intimidation against churches

A close ally of President Xi Jinping has been promoted to deputy Communist Party chief of Hubei province ahead of a major power reshuffle late this year, mainland media reported on Tuesday.

Chen Yixin, 57, will also become party chief of the provincial capital Wuhan, according to Shanghai-based

Chen was previously the deputy director of the general office of the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, a group founded and led by Xi to oversee overhauls of the country’s political, economic and defence systems, among others.

Before joining the leading group, Chen’s experience was limited to Xi’s power base of Zhejiang province, according to his resume.

He was a deputy director of the general office of ­Zhejiang’s party committee when Xi was party boss of the coastal province.

A church in Wenzhou. The banner reads ‘Cross is the symbol of our believe, don't demolish our cross'. Photo: Simon Song

As party boss of Wenzhou, a city with a big population of Christians, Chen is believed to have played a leading role in a controversial campaign to demolish crucifixes on private churches, in the name of clearing illegal structures.

The campaign ensured “no individual, department or group is above the law”, ­Zhejiang Daily quoted

him as ­saying in April, 2015.

Chen is also understood to have played a central role in helping the city recover from its worst debt crisis in decades.

As deputy party chief of Hubei, Chen will be the third most powerful cadre in the province and could advance up one rung to become governor, as a handful of Xi’s proteges have in the past two years. As recently as 2014, Chen was only a prefecture-level cadre.

Chen’s appointment is the latest example of Xi’s former subordinates climbing the political ladder quickly.

Cai Qi, another Xi protege from Fujian and later Zhejiang, was appointed to the powerful position of Beijing mayor last year.

Cai is seen as very likely to take over as Beijing’s party chief, which would ensure him a seat on the powerful Politburo when the party meets for its 19th congress later this year. He was a deputy governor of Zhejiang province before being named in 2013 as deputy director of the Central National Security Commission, another group created and chaired by Xi.