| BEIJING, Sept 4
BEIJING, Sept 4 China's next leader, Xi Jinping,
looks to have emerged politically stronger after ruling
Communist Party elders foiled a second attempt by outgoing
President Hu Jintao to stack the top echelon of the new
administration with his own allies.
Hu had been manoeuvring to promote his star protege, Hu
Chunhua, to the party's supreme decision-making body, the
Politburo Standing Committee, as part of the current leadership
transition, but other senior party figures have opposed the
idea, two independent sources said.
Hu Chunhua, who is not related to Hu Jintao, is instead
likely to be given one of China's biggest but also most testing
political assignments as new party chief of southwestern
Chongqing, the job from which disgraced politician Bo Xilai was
ousted, said the sources with ties to the top party leadership.
The sideways move for Hu Chunhua, currently party boss for
Inner Mongolia, follows the demotion of another of Hu Jintao's
closest allies at the weekend - both taken as signs that Xi may
have a relatively freer hand to forge consensus among peers.
"Hu's (Jintao) loss is Xi's gain," one of the sources with
ties to the leadership told Reuters, requesting anonymity due to
the sensitivity of the subject. "Xi is in a less difficult
China, currently mired in an economic downturn, faces
growing calls for it to step up the pace of economic and social
reforms, a task that could prove trickier for Xi if the Standing
Committee were to include politicians reluctant to make changes
to the cautious direction set by Hu over the past decade.
But the situation remains fluid, with the make-up of the new
Standing Committee, currently comprising nine members, still to
be finalised in a once-in-a-decade transition to be unveiled at
the party's 18th congress, expected next month at the earliest.
Wu Guoguang, a political scientist at University of Victoria
in Canada and a former party insider, said Xi would be the clear
beneficiary if Hu Chunhua failed to make the Standing Committee.
"Hu's influence over Xi after the 18th congress would be
weak," said Wu, a former policy adviser and speech writer to
purged party chief Zhao Ziyang in the late 1980s. Hu's allies in
the Standing Committee could serve as a "check and balance" on
Xi, he said.
Hu Jintao's first setback in the leadership transition came
at the weekend when Ling Jihua, a close ally who currently
fulfils a role similar to cabinet secretary, was demoted after a
scandal involving Ling's son.
The son was involved in a fatal crash involving a luxury
sports car in Beijing in March, source have said, an incident
that caused a storm of Internet rumours and shone an
embarrassing light on the lifestyles of the children of the
Hu Chunhua, however, is seen as a possible eventual
successor to Xi as president, given he is only 49 and that there
is still time for his elevation to the Standing Committee before
Xi eventually steps aside.
Xi himself catapulted to the Standing Committee only at the
17th congress in 2007. He is heir-apparent to succeed Hu as
party chief at the 18th congress and as president next year.
One source linked to the party leadership said President Hu
still held hopes for his protege, known as "Little Hu", to
become party boss of the country's financial capital, Shanghai,
a more prestigious and high-profile post than the Chongqing job.
But this was a more remote prospect now, the sources said.
"I believe Hu Chunhua is still (being) groomed to be future
leader. I think the crucial test is actually whether he can make
it to the Politburo," said Joseph Cheng, a political science
professor at City University of Hong Kong.
"(It) is a horizontal transfer. It definitely shouldn't be
seen as a demotion."
In taking on the Chongqing post, Hu Chunhua would take over
the old power base of Bo Xilai whose career unravelled this year
after his wife was accused of murder in China's biggest
political scandal in two decades.
"If he's going to go to Chongqing, he will face a lot of
challenges because of the legacy of Bo Xilai," said Bo Zhiyue,
senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute of the
National University of Singapore.
Bo Xilai was an ambitious politician who turned Chongqing
into a showcase for policies that appealed to the masses and
party leftists but also made him powerful enemies in Beijing.
"How is he going to manage this place to make sure there are
no major problems over the next five years and accumulate
performance credit to make sure he gets into a higher position
later on?" said Bo Zhiyue, who is not related to the ousted
In a consolation prize for President Hu, Beijing mayor Guo
Jinlong has been promoted to the capital's party boss. Guo is a
Hu ally and likely to be promoted to the Politburo.