(Bloomberg) -- After taking charge of the world’s largest political party four years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping is starting to put his personal touch on the organization.
A who’s who of reshuffled provincial leaders sheds light on the president’s effort to remake party leadership. The top officials of influential regions are all but guaranteed a seat on the 200-plus-member Central Committee at a twice-in-a-decade meeting next year. If they get there at a young enough age, they can aspire to the highest levels, even becoming potential Xi successors.
“The recently promoted officials have a good chance to break into higher-ranking party circles at the party congress next year,” said Huang Weiping, director of Shenzhen University’s Contemporary Chinese Politics Research Institute. Their prospects “also look promising” for 2022, he said, when China is expected to anoint its next top leader.
The president’s reshuffle effort is still ongoing ahead of an annual party meeting in October, with 17 of 31 top regional officials replaced since April. Massive changes in the party’s senior ranks are expected in the lead up to next year’s party congress. While not all promoted leaders have explicit personal connections to Xi, the maneuvering reflect his leadership style. Here are a few notable moves so far:
Li Qiang, 57
Past Chinese leaders boasted deep networks from which to promote loyalists. Former President Hu Jintao, for instance, elevated proteges from the 87-million-member Communist Youth League. Xi -- the “princeling” son of a revolutionary leader -- spent most of his career in the eastern regions of Fujian and Zhejiang, away from traditional sources of power. And several officials who crossed paths with him during that time have recently been catapulted up the leadership ranks.
The June appointment of Li Qiang -- Zhejiang’s former No. 2 -- to lead neighboring Jiangsu province was among the most eye-catching. Li was promoted in 2004 to secretary of Zhejiang’s provincial party committee, which was headed by Xi.
Li’s efforts to develop “small-town economies,” or clusters of high-tech and innovation-focused businesses, received a personal endorsement last September from Xi’s finance-and-economic chief, Liu He. Li has a weighty gig in Jiangsu, a coastal province with an economy larger than Indonesia’s where seven high-ranking officials have fallen to corruption probes since Xi came to power.
Du Jiahao, 61
Several officials who worked under Xi during his brief stint in the financial hub of Shanghai in 2007 were also promoted. Du Jiahao, who oversaw the Pudong district’s development as a financial and trade center, was appointed party secretary of central Hunan province. The Shanghai native rides a bicycle to work to get to know the place and has pledged to help win Xi’s battle for “supply-side” reform.
Xi’s promotion of old associates at various levels, including some of them relatively junior, “increases political commotion and helps disturb the status quo,” Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
Wu Yingjie, 59
Some promotions broke with past patterns. The party secretary job in Tibet went to the Himalayan region’s relatively unknown deputy leader, Wu Yingjie. Unlike each of his nine predecessors since 1980 who were parachuted in from other regions, Wu boasts deep experience in Tibet and arrived there when Mao Zedong was still alive. At his inauguration last month, Wu pledged to fulfill Xi’s “deep hope” for Tibet.
Such moves have added uncertainty to the upcoming party congress, when scores of Central Committee seats will be replaced. Retirement rules -- as they now stand, at least -- call for replacing as many as 11 of the 25 members of the ruling Politburo, including five of the seven members on its elite Standing Committee.
"In general terms I see Xi as a calculating and therefore cautious risk taker, in policy terms and in matters that can be deemed as party convention," said Steve Tsang, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. "Xi does not refrain from breaking with existing practices where he sees a chance to do so successfully."
Xu Shousheng, 63
Clearing the way for new blood has required replacing some veterans. The top leaders of Hunan, Jiangxi and Shanxi were shuffled from provincial management roles two years ahead of the retirement age of 65. All three ended up receiving functional posts in China’s rubber-stamp legislature. For instance, former Hunan party secretary Xu Shousheng became deputy head of the National People’s Congress’ agriculture committee.
“It’s quite clear now that officials who are under 63 and have won his trust are on their way up,” said Zhang of Renmin University.
Li Hongzhong, 60
Almost four years after Xi unleashed party graft-busters, they continue to cull once-rising stars from the ranks, providing opportunities for others. On Sept. 10, Huang Xingguo, the 61-year-old mayor and acting party chief of the northern port Tianjin, was placed under party investigation. That ended any hopes he might have had for securing the formal title and ascending to the Politburo.
Huang’s fall was notable because he had worked under at least three sitting members of China’s top decision-making body, including a stint under Xi in Zhejiang. Hubei party secretary Li Hongzhong was subsequently appointed to the top post in Tianjin. Li was among the first of several provincial leaders to declare Xi as the “core” of the party last year, a designation that would strengthen the president’s hand.
With assistance from Ting Shi, Keith Zhai