Xi ally named as new boss of China’s manufacturing heartland Guangdong

Pressure will be on former Liaoning party chief Li Xi, 61, to introduce progressive policies for regional integration, researcher says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 7:19pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 11:31pm

Beijing named a new top official for the southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong on Saturday, one of a series of senior appointments to be made after the Communist Party’s leadership shake-up.

Li Xi, 61 – one of President Xi Jinping’s allies elevated to the 25-member Politburo on Wednesday – was named as the province’s party chief, succeeding Hu Chunhua, the official Xinhua news agency said in a brief report.

Li was previously party chief of northeastern Liaoning province and will be succeeded by its governor, Chen Qiufa.

Hu’s next role was not mentioned in the report. Once seen as a front runner for the supreme seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, Hu, 54, failed to make the cut but remains on the Politburo. He has, however, been tipped for a senior position within the Party Central or state apparatus.

Li’s promotion takes him from the rust-belt province of Liaoning, which had negative gross domestic product growth of minus 2.3 per cent in 2016, to the nation’s main export hub with a GDP that is more than three times the size of Liaoning’s.

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Experience in governing a key region like Guangdong is seen as useful in gaining promotion to the Standing Committee. China’s manufacturing heartland has had the biggest GDP of all provinces in the country for the past 28 years.

Located over the border from Hong Kong, the southern province was also a trailblazer for economic reform. Its party chiefs have been sitting on the Politburo since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping made his famous “southern tour” of the province in 1992 that reignited the country’s market reforms.

One researcher at a government-affiliated institute noted that it was not the first time officials had been promoted from the northern regions to Guangdong, and that Li was young enough to remain in the Politburo beyond the next party congress in 2022.

“He is clearly appreciated by the top leaders since he’s been given this important position,” the researcher said.

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In Guangdong, Li will have to balance the development of the Pearl River Delta’s affluent areas with that of the less developed ones, and continue the push for regional integration, particularly under the “Greater Bay Area” scheme.

The Greater Bay Area concept involves developing a megacity cluster to match New York, San Francisco and Tokyo. The bay area plan covers nine cities in southern Guangdong including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai, as well as Hong Kong and Macau. It covers an area of 56,000 sq km and a population of 68 million. The area’s combined economies were worth some 10 trillion yuan (US$1.51 trillion) last year.

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The pressure will be on Li to bring in progressive policies for regional integration, the researcher said.

Although Li’s political career has not directly overlapped with Xi’s, he did spend seven years working in the president’s home province of Shaanxi, in the northwest, and is widely seen as a Xi ally.

In the 1980s, Li was secretary to Gansu party chief Li Ziqi, a close associate of Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun.

Li spent 22 years moving up the ranks in Gansu, his home province, becoming secretary general of its party committee before being transferred to neighbouring Shaanxi to take up the same post there.

From Shaanxi, he was transferred to the east coast to work in the financial hub of Shanghai in 2011, which put him on the fast track to promotion, becoming the city’s deputy party chief in 2013. A year later, he moved to northeastern Liaoning to take up the job of governor, becoming its party chief in 2015.

The party also announced on Saturday that Fujian governor Yu Weiguo will become its party chief, taking over from You Quan. Tianjin mayor Wang Dongfeng has been promoted to Hebei party chief, succeeding Zhao Kezhi. And Politburo member Chen Xi was promoted from deputy head to chief of the party’s Organisation Department.

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang