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Who Will Succeed Wen Jiabao?Vice Premier Candidates for the 2008 Chinese Government

Potential Vice Premier candidates for 2008.

Recently, China’s personnel shuffle for future top leaders once again became the focus of public attention. On July 4, 2005, the Asian Times Online published a report by Feng Liang analyzing the top candidates for the vice premier position in the 2008 Chinese government cabinet. The article was widely circulated among Chinese websites.

Since Hu Jintao acquired the top leadership position in China, he has quietly promoted a number of officials with "Communist Youth League (CYL)" backgrounds to key positions, which has attracted a lot of public attention. According to the analysis in the Asian Times Online article, Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, and Wang Qishan, who belong to the so-called "Crown Prince Party," [1] and Li Keqiang, who has close ties with the CYL, are believed to be top contenders for the position.

According to the article, among all the personnel appointments, candidates for vice premier are the most sensitive ones because they have a profound influence. Currently China has four vice premiers: Huang Ju, Wu Yi, Zeng Peiyan, and Hui Liangyu. Huang, Wu, and Zeng are over 67 years old; Hui Liangyu is 61. In other words, Huang Ju, Wu Yi, and Zeng Peiyan will pass the upper age limit of 70 during the time of the next cabinet. So the next government will, by default, have at least three new vice premiers.

The reason why the Chinese are speculating about who will become the new vice premiers is because one of them will most likely become China’s new premier in 2013. According to outside speculation, Premier Wen Jiabao, 63, is expected to serve a second term in 2008. He will probably retire at age 71. Therefore, one of the new vice premiers will, most likely, succeed Wen Jiabao.

Hui Liangyu will be 64 by 2008. If he becomes the vice premier, he will be 69 at the end of his first term, near retirement age. In addition, Hui is being viewed by some as part of the "Jiang Zemin faction." Therefore, Hui Liangyu is very unlikely to be Wen Jiabao’s successor.

On June 28, 2005, Liaowang East Weekly News, an official government-sponsored magazine, published an article that included photos of Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, Wang Qishan, and Li Keqiang. Usually, political observers view such an article as a media warm-up for important personnel changes. Therefore, many believe that Bo, Xi, Li, and Wang, among others, are top candidates for vice premiers in the next government.

Among the four, Bo Xilai is currently the Minister of Commerce; Xi Jinping is the Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province; Wang Qishan serves as Beijing’s Mayor; and Li Keqiang is the Party Secretary of Liaoning Province. All of them are at their respective key positions and a step up will appear to be a very natural move.
It is worth noting that Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, and Wang Qishan are either children of the Chinese Communist Old Guards or of their family members; Li Keqiang, on the other hand, is a key figure in the "Youth League faction" which has close ties with President Hu Jintao. Bo Xilai, 56, is the son of CCP old guard Bo Yibo; Xi Jinping, 52, is the son of Xi Zhongxun, former Vice Chair of the National People’s Congress from 1988 to 1993; Wang Qishan, 57, is the son-in-law of Yao Yilin, former Vice Premier of China; Li Keqiang, 50, was the First Secretary of the CYL from 1993 to 1998. Li has a close relationship with Hu Jintao who served as the First Secretary of the CYL in the 1980s.

According to an analysis, the scenario of Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, and Wang Qishan becoming the top candidates to be the next vice premiers goes along with the current Chinese political climate. Right now, China’s politics face a very delicate time. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, both from humble family backgrounds, became the president and premier. China’s politics is entering a "specialist" era. Many children of the first generation revolutionists stay away from politics; some move into business.

However, even Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao still need the old guard’s blessing. In the meantime, the "Crown Prince Party" is still very influential in politics. Therefore, Hu Jintao still relies heavily on Zeng Qinghong, son of "Revolutionary Forefather" Zeng Shan. Currently in the provincial and central governments, Hu Jintao is promoting people having a similar political ideology to his. For example, the Vice Governor of Shandong Province, Wu Aiying, recently became the Minister of Justice. Wu used to be a CYL secretary of the Changwei District branch, Shandong Province. Zhang Baoshun, former secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CYL, recently became the Governor of Shanxi Province. In the central government, if Hu Jintao supports children of the old guard to become vice premiers together with one of his protégés, it will achieve a good balance. Then, Hu will get support from the old guard, and this will also help the CYL division to consolidate its power.

In general, preparation for the next government in 2008 should take over two years. Therefore, it’s not surprising that this "personnel issue" is getting attention right now.

[1] From Wikipedia: "Crown Prince Party" (Pinyin: Tàizĭ Dang), or The Princelings, are the descendants (usually in the second-generation) of prominent and influential senior communists of the People’s Republic of China. It is not a political party, but an informal, and often derogatory, categorization to signify those benefiting from nepotism.

Joshua Li is a correspondent for Chinascope.