Don't expect dramatic change from China's new leaders

BEIJING Thu Nov 15, 2012 4:40pm IST

Paramilitary policemen stand guard in front of the giant portrait of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Beijing's Tiananmen Square November 15, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray

Paramilitary policemen stand guard in front of the giant portrait of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Beijing's Tiananmen Square November 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's ruling Communist Party unveiled its new top leadership team on Thursday, another all-male cast of politicians whose instincts are to move cautiously on reform.

Xi Jinping took the helm of the party, heading a team of seven members in the new Politburo Standing Committee, the peak decision-making body which will steer the world's second-largest economy for the next five years.

Following are short biographies of the leaders, including their reform credentials and possible portfolio responsibilities.

XI JINPING

REFORM CREDENTIALS: Considered a cautious reformer, having spent time in top positions in the coastal Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, both at the forefront of China's economic reforms.

Xi Jinping, 59, is China's vice president and President Hu Jintao's anointed successor. He will take over as head of state in March at the annual meeting of parliament.

Xi belongs to the party's "princeling" generation, the offspring of communist revolutionaries. His father, former vice premier Xi Zhongxun, fought alongside Mao Zedong in the Chinese civil war. Xi watched his father purged and later, during the Cultural Revolution, spent years in the hardscrabble countryside before making his way to university and then to power.

Married to a famous singer, Xi has crafted a low-key and sometimes blunt political style. He has complained that officials' speeches and writings are clogged with party jargon and has demanded more plain speaking.

Xi went to work in the poor northwest Chinese countryside as a "sent-down youth" during the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, and became a rural commune official. He went on to study chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing and later gained a degree in Marxist theory from Tsinghua and a doctorate in law.

A native of the poor, inland province of Shaanxi, Xi was promoted to governor of southeastern Fujian province in 1999 and became party boss in neighbouring Zhejiang province in 2003.

In 2007, the tall, portly Xi secured the top job in China's commercial capital, Shanghai, when his predecessor was caught up in a huge corruption case. Later that year he was promoted to the party's standing committee.

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LI KEQIANG

REFORM CREDENTIALS: Seen as another cautious reformer due to his relatively liberal university experiences.

Vice Premier Li Keqiang, 57, is the man tipped to be China's next premier, taking over from Wen Jiabao, also in March.

His ascent will mark an extraordinary rise for a man who as a youth was sent to toil in the countryside during Mao's Cultural Revolution.

He was born in Anhui province in 1955, son of a local rural official. Li worked on a commune that was one of the first places to quietly revive private bonuses in farming in the late 1970s. By the time he left Anhui, Li was a party member and secretary of his production brigade.

He studied law at the elite Peking University, which was among the first Chinese schools to resume teaching law after the Cultural Revolution. He worked to master English and co-translated "The Due Process of Law" by Lord Denning, the famed English jurist.

In 1980, Li, then in the official student union, endorsed controversial campus elections. Party conservatives were aghast, but Li, already a prudent political player, stayed out of the controversial vote.

He climbed the party ranks and in 1983 joined the Communist Youth League's central secretariat, headed then by Hu Jintao.

Li later served in challenging party chief posts in Liaoning, a frigid northeastern rustbelt province, and rural Henan province, where he was accused by activists of cracking down on them after an AIDS scandal. He was named to the powerful nine-member standing committee in 2007.

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ZHANG DEJIANG

REFORM CREDENTIALS: A conservative trained in North Korea.

Zhang Dejiang, 65, saw his chances of promotion boosted this year when he was chosen to replace disgraced politician Bo Xilai as Chongqing party boss. He also serves as vice premier in charge of industry, though his record has been tarnished by the downfall of the railway minister last year for corruption.

Zhang is close to former president Jiang Zemin, who still wields some influence. He studied economics at Kim Il-sung University in North Korea and is a native of northeast China.

He has been seen as a proponent of the state sector, and originally opposed admitting private entrepreneurs into the party. But the news magazine Caixin reported that he has encouraged competition when visiting Chongqing companies in April.

His wife has been reported to have been a former vice-president at Construction Bank of China.

On his watch as party chief of Guangdong, the southern province maintained its position as a powerhouse of China's economic growth, even as it struggled with energy shortages, corruption-fuelled unrest and the 2003 SARS epidemic.

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YU ZHENGSHENG

REFORM CREDENTIALS: Relatively low-key but considered a cautious reformer.

Yu Zhengsheng, 67, is party boss in China's financial hub and most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai.

His impeccable Communist pedigree made him a rising star in the mid-1980s until his brother, an intelligence official, defected to the United States. His close ties with Deng Pufang, the eldest son of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, spared him the full political repercussions but he was taken off the fast track.

Yu bided his time in ministerial ranks, including as minister of construction, until bouncing back, joining the Politburo in 2002. However, the princeling's age would require him to retire in 2017 after one term.

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LIU YUNSHAN

REFORM CREDENTIALS: A conservative who has kept domestic media on a tight leash.

Liu Yunshan, 65, may take over the propaganda and ideology portfolio for the Standing Committee.

He has a background in media, once working as a reporter for state-run news agency Xinhua in Inner Mongolia, where he later served in party and propaganda roles before shifting to Beijing.

As minister of the party's Propaganda Department since 2002, Liu has also sought to control China's Internet, which has more than 500 million users. He has been a member of the wider Politburo for two five-year terms ending this year.

Liu worked for the Communist Youth League for two years in Inner Mongolia from 1982-84, and is also aligned to it through his lengthy career in an inland, poor province, long ties to the party's propaganda system and close relationship with Hu Jintao.

Liu's son, Liu Lefei, is CEO of CITIC Private Equity Funds Management Co Ltd, a subsidiary of CITIC Securities (600030.SS), sources have told Reuters.

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WANG QISHAN

REFORM CREDENTIALS: A financial reformer and problem solver with deep experience tackling tricky economic and political problems.

Wang Qishan, 64, is the most junior of four vice premiers and an ex-mayor of Beijing. But he has a keen grasp of complex economic issues and is the only likely member of the Standing Committee to have been chief executive of a corporation, leading the state-owned China Construction Bank from 1994 to 1997.

Wang is likely to lead the fight against corruption, a top priority in the world's second-biggest economy, following his appointment to a key council at the end of the party's 18th congress.

Wang is an experienced negotiator who has led finance and trade negotiations as well as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the United States. He is a favourite of foreign investors and has long been seen as a problem solver, sorting out a debt crisis in Guangdong province where he was vice governor in the late 1990s and replacing the sacked Beijing mayor after a cover-up of the deadly SARS virus in 2003.

Wang is also a princeling, son-in-law of a former vice premier and ex-standing committee member, Yao Yilin.

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ZHANG GAOLI

REFORM CREDENTIALS: A financial reformer with experience in more developed parts of China.

Zhang Gaoli, 65, party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin and a Politburo member since 2007, is seen as a Jiang Zemin ally but also acceptable to President Hu, who has visited Tianjin three times since 2008. Zhang is an advocate of greater foreign investment and he introduced financial reforms in a bid to turn the city into a financial centre in northern China.

He was sent to clean up Tianjin, which was hit by a string of corruption scandals implicating his predecessor and the former top adviser to the city's lawmaking body. The adviser committed suicide shortly after Zhang's arrival.

A native of southeastern Fujian province, Zhang trained as an economist. He also served as party chief and governor of eastern Shandong province and as Guangdong vice governor.

In the 1970s and early 80s, he worked in the oil sector while in Guangdong.

Zhang is low-key with a down-to-earth work style, and not much is known about his specific interests and aspirations. But with his leadership experience in more economically advanced cities and provinces, including party secretary of the showcase manufacturing and export-driven city of Shenzhen. He could be named the top-ranked vice-premier. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Chris Ip, Grace Li, Jean Lin, Young Wang, Alice Woodhouse and Julie Zhu; Editing by Sui-Lee Wee and Nick Macfie)

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