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Wang Qishan

China’s second most powerful man ‘reappears’ on state TV amid speculation over his future

At 69, Wang Qishan is past the unofficial retirement age, but it remains to be seen if he will stay on or step down at upcoming party congress

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 1:07am

After about a month’s silence in state media, China’s second most powerful official Wang Qishan has finally made an officially reported public appearance in Hunan province, calling for the tightening of Communist Party discipline at grass-roots party organisations.

Wang, the party’s formidable discipline tsar, paid a three-day visit to the central province and held a symposium on discipline inspection work on Tuesday, according to the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the top anti-graft agency which he heads.

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He was accompanied by Zhao Leji, head of the party’s personnel arm which oversees the promotion of officials. Zhao is also Wang’s deputy at the central leading group on inspection work.

On Tuesday evening’s CCTV news broadcast, China’s most watched news programme, a smiling Wang was seen shaking hands with local officials and speaking with villagers in Hunan.

This was the first time Wang appeared in official media since party leaders returned from their annual retreat at the seaside resort of Beidaihe in mid-August.

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Wang, who has largely maintained a relatively low profile in the past five years, was thrust into the spotlight in the lead-up to a key leadership shake-up scheduled for next month.

Widely known as a long-time ally of President Xi Jinping, whether the 69-year-old will stay on the Politburo Standing Committee – the pinnacle of power in China – for another term despite exceeding the unofficial retirement age has been one of the biggest questions surrounding the 19th party congress.

As the meeting approaches, Wang’s every move and word are being closely watched by observers and overseas media. But in contrast to the intense attention, his whereabouts have become even more elusive, fuelling all sorts of speculation.

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His last public appearance was on August 1, alongside Xi and other Politburo Standing Committee members at the ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army in Beijing.

He was reportedly seen on August 24 at the funeral of An Zhiwen, a party elder and reformist, according to news outlet Caixin, citing staff at the funeral parlour. But the event was not reported by state media.

The last time Wang’s name was mentioned – albeit only in passing – in state media was on August 6, when Xinhua ran a report to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

It is not the first time the top graft buster has disappeared from the public view for a long period of time. His previous long absence ended with the CCDI’s sudden announcement of its investigation into Sun Zhengcai, former Chongqing party boss and a member of the Politburo, the party’s second-highest decision making body.