by Zhengxu Wang.

chunhua hu party congressThe Party has tried to institutionalize the succession process so that one or a few top leaders of a future cohort are identified early on, and put them in testy positions to groom them for five to ten years, before they officially take over.

It is commonly known that the Party has so far had only one peaceful transfer of power from one cohort of leaders to the next. And that happened ten years ago when Hu Jintao’s cohort took over from Jiang Zemin and colleagues.

The second one is likely to happen in about a month’s time, when the 18th Party Congress retires the Hu Jintao cohort, and installs a new cohort headed by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

A big question then becomes, at this Congress, will the Party install one or two younger leaders as the key members of the next cohort?

A small number of leaders born in 1960s are emerging as candidates for such a role, with the most notable one being Mr. Hu Chunhua, the current Party Secretary of Inner Mongolia.

A graduate of Peking University, China’s top university, he started his career, rather unusually, in Tibet. In one of the most precarious moments of Chinese Community Party’s rule in Tibet, during a Tibetan riot in 1989, he started to work for Hu Jintao, who at that time was sent by the Party Center to put things back under control there.

The older Hu’s performance at that critical juncture won approval of Deng Xiaoping and other senior leaders at that time, and eventually put him onto the road to become China’s top leader. The younger Hu, meanwhile, also secured the older Hu’s confidence, and became the latter’s protégé ever since.

The exiting older Hu is believed to hope to put the younger Hu in a favourable position, so that the latter could secure a top seat, or “the” top seat, in the leadership ten years down the road.

Given the reduction of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) from nine seats to seven, it is unlikely that Hu Chunhua would be promoted into that body. But given that about half of the Politburo (PB) seats will be vacated by retirements, there should be no difficulty in putting him in one of those newly available seats.

The question is what  new role he will be assigned to while sitting on the PB. He has obtained significant amount of provincial experience, having worked in the three provinces of Tibet, Hebei, and Inner Mongolia.

Therefore, earlier rumours that he would take up the job as Party Secretary of Beijing, which did not materialize anyway, were unrealistic. By contrast, it is more likely, and will be more helpful, for him to be moved to a position in the Center.

On-going rumours include taking the position of the Director of the Party Organization Department, taking this over from Li Yuanchao, who is due to be promoted into the PBSC (Politburo Standing Committee). Another rumour sees Hu Chunhua becoming a Vice Premier after this Congress.

This Vice Premier option might indeed work well: he can take over the portfolio previously held by Zhang Dejiang, to be in charge of industrial policies.

Vice premier or a director of central Party departments, five years of these experiences will greatly strengthen his prospects of entering the PBSC in 2017. Then his role as a top leader to take over in 2022, at the 20th Party Congress, will become definite.

Zhengxu Wang is Deputy Director of China Policy Institute.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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