China to name new leaders soon

TAIZHOU (China): China will usher in a new batch of top leaders, possibly including a successor to President Hu Jintao, when the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) convenes a major leadership meeting in mid-October. 

Intense speculation over the timing of the five-yearly meeting – the 17th Party Congress – was put to rest on Tuesday after the official Xinhua news agency reported that it would be held on Oct 15. 

During the meeting, expected to last for several days, ageing leaders such as Vice-Premier Wu Yi, 69, are expected to make way for rising stars like Bo Xilai, the Commerce Minister.  

But attention will largely fall on the outcomes of several political battles Hu has been waging since coming to power in 2002.  

The first such battle is to consolidate his power within the CCP by appointing his own allies to key appointments within the party, military and the central government, and thereby replacing those installed by his retired predecessor Jiang Zemin to check his power.  

The second and more important battle, analysts say, is whether Hu can get his way with the succession issue, by elevating his protege, Li Keqiang, the top official of northeastern Liaoning province, into the CCP's top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee. 

This would make Li the de facto “fifth-generation leader” of China, a process that echoes how Hu himself was picked in 1992 to be the fourth-generation leader.  

Late paramount leaders Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang are considered respectively the first-, second- and third-generation Chinese leadership. 

There is no clear sign yet if Hu has won the battle on the key issue of political succession.  

Although Li is widely rumoured to be the front-runner, he has not been given any important party or central government appointment which might herald his imminent ascendancy.  

In fact, there has been no indication if the CCP would nominate just one successor to Hu, or break away from tradition and nominate a handful of potential candidates who would then compete for the top job.  

The October Congress is also being watched closely for signs as to whether the CCP would introduce institutional leadership reforms.  

“Sooner or later, they would move to the second model (of competing candidates) as Chinese society has changed,” said Prof Li Cheng, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington.  

“Beijing would not announce the date for the Congress if the main leadership issues haven't been settled,” said a Beijing-based political commentator. 

“But not every major appointment has been decided, so intense horse-trading can be expected right up to the eve of the meeting.” – The Straits Times / Asia News Network  

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