China's Hu set to emerge stronger from Congress

  • World
  • Saturday, 20 Oct 2007

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to oust political rivals, promote allies to key posts and emerge politically stronger from a Communist Party conclave. 

Hu's rival-turned-ally, Vice President Zeng Qinghong, is poised to retire, presenting a boon to Hu, who is seeking to consolidate power at the 17th Party Congress ending on Sunday. 

Chinese President Hu Jintao stands before singing the national anthem during the opening ceremony of the 17th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in this October 15, 2007 file photo. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Another rival, Chen Liangyu, was sacked as Shanghai Party boss last year and faces trial for corruption. 

You Xigui, director of the Party's powerful Bodyguards Bureau and a holdover from the era of Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, will retire after he was left out of the running for a seat in the Party's elite 200-odd member Central Committee. 

Several Hu allies who cut their teeth in the Communist Youth League, Hu's power base, are tipped for higher office, and one-third of provincial leaders rose through the Youth League. 

Li Keqiang, Party boss of the northeastern rust-belt province of Liaoning, is front-runner to be promoted to the top echelon of power, the Party's nine-seat Politburo Standing Committee. 

Another Hu ally, Liu Yandong, minister of the Party's United Front Work Department responsible for winning over non-Communists, is a shoo-in to become the only female member of the Politburo, ranked one notch below the Standing Committee. 

Li Yuanchao, Party boss of wealthy Jiangsu province in the east coast, and Wang Yang, who runs the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, are candidates to join the decision-making 20-odd member Politburo. 

All have Youth League backgrounds. 

"Hu is now a super-patron who can dispense favours and insert people in key party, government and military positions," said Alfred Chan, a political scientist at Canada's Huron College. 

"Rejuvenation is urgent. The designation of a successor or successors for 2012 is more an institutional requirement than Hu's alleged desire to pick an ally to perpetuate his legacy." 

The final line-ups of the Politburo and the Standing Committee will be made public at a one-day post-Congress meeting of the new Central Committee on Monday. 

The new inner core is also likely to include Shanghai Party boss Xi Jinping and other, younger faces who do not necessarily owe their allegiance to Hu, but analysts say their promotions are part of Hu's design to accommodate interest groups, rather than a capitulation to his rivals. 

Analysts expect the Congress to make no change to the basic thrust of pro-growth reforms that have made China the world's fourth-largest economy. 

But a consolidation of power would allow Hu a stronger hand to alter China's path from that of Jiang's era, which featured breakneck growth at the expense of the environment and left the country with potentially destabilising inequalities. 

Hu's political doctrine, "scientific development", advocating sustainable growth, will be enshrined in the Party constitution during the Congress, placing him alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in the pantheon of Chinese Communist greats. 

In another sign of Hu's growing clout, he offered to enter into negotiations with Taiwan to reach a peace agreement, in an overture to the self-ruled island which China claims as its own. 

"He had enough authority to break new ground despite (pressure from) conservatives in the Party," said Lin Chong-Pin, a Taipei-based veteran China watcher. 

Also, Hu's control of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army has grown. 

State media hailed Jiang as "the core" of his generation of leaders, an unofficial but important title that Hu is expected to belatedly inherit after the Congress. 

But Hu lacks the revolutionary credentials of Mao or Deng and needs to accommodate internal interest groups, including the military, Party elders, "princelings" or the children of the country's political elite and provincial leaders. 

As part of a reshuffle in the run-up to the Congress, one of Hu's closest aides, Ling Jihua, was promoted to director of the General Office of the Party's elite Central Committee last month. 

In August, another Hu ally, Meng Xuenong, 58, made a political comeback four years after being sacked as Beijing mayor during the 2003 SARS crisis. Meng was named acting governor and deputy Party boss of the coal-rich northern province of Shanxi. 

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