Chongqing shake-up sig­nals Xi power play

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

A SUD­DEN lead­er­ship change in one of China’s big­gest cities has high­lighted Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s am­bi­tion to con­sol­i­date his grip on power at an up­com­ing ma­jor po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ing, an­a­lysts say.

Former Xi aide Chen Miner was named Com­mu­nist Party chief in Chongqing last week­end, abruptly re­plac­ing a politi­cian who was once widely re­garded as a con­tender for pro­mo­tion to China’s top po­lit­i­cal body.

The shake-up in the south­west­ern mega­lopo­lis may sig­nal that Xi is ma­noeu­vring to stack the na­tional lead­er­ship with his sup­port­ers at the Com­mu­nist Party congress later this year.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, Xi is widely ex­pected to se­cure a sec­ond five year term, but what is less clear is who will de­part or as­cend to the Polit­buro stand­ing com­mit­tee, the group of seven politi­cians who run the world’s sec­ond largest econ­omy.

Chen re­placed Sun Zheng­cai, a mem­ber of the 25-per­son polit­buro who was once a favourite for pro­mo­tion to the stand­ing com­mit­tee.

Chongqing, with a pop­u­la­tion ex­ceed­ing 30 mil­lion, is best known to China watch­ers as the strong­hold of Bo Xi­lai, the out­spo­ken former of­fi­cial who be­came one of the high­est­pro­file tar­gets of Xi’s anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign.

Bo, who is now serv­ing a life sen­tence, was ru­moured to be part of a net­work plot­ting to stop Xi from as­sum­ing con­trol of the party in 2012, and Sun was charged with eras­ing his in­flu­ence on the city.

In Fe­bru­ary, party dis­ci­pline in­spec­tors pub­licly re­buked Sun for fail­ing to get the job done, leav­ing his fu­ture in ques­tion.

The city must “res­o­lutely re­move the bad im­pact” of Bo’s case, Chen told city of­fi­cials shortly af­ter the an­nounce­ment of his pro­mo­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Chongqing Daily.

While no rea­son was given for the lead­er­ship switch, the South China Morn­ing Post re­ported that Sun was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Com­mu­nist Party.

The fail­ure to “purge Bo’s poi­son” was likely a fac­tor in the de­ci­sion to re­place Sun, said Hu Xing­dou, an ex­pert on China’s gov­er­nance at the Bei­jing In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

But “his re­moval from of­fice is prob­a­bly be­cause he di­rectly or in­di­rectly af­fected Xi Jin­ping’s per­son­nel plans for the 19th Party Congress,” he said.

Chen first worked with Xi in 2002, when the pres­i­dent be­came party chief of eastern Zhe­jiang province.

In late 2012, the former pro­pa­ganda chief ’s ca­reer kicked into over­drive fol­low­ing Xi’s as­cen­sion to the head of the Com­mu­nist Party.

Chen be­came gov­er­nor of south­west Guizhou province in 2013, adding the ti­tle of party sec­re­tary in 2015.

“He’s an im­por­tant mem­ber of Xi’s ‘New Zhe­jiang Army’,” Hu said, re­fer­ring to the group of al­lies who worked with the pres­i­dent when he was the province’s party chief.

“He is a per­son who Xi Jin­ping very much trusts and re­lies on.”

Chen’s pro­mo­tion has “smashed” ex­pec­ta­tions that Sun would be pro­moted to the polit­buro stand­ing com­mit­tee dur­ing the Party Congress this fall, said Chen Daoyin, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at Shang­hai Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law.

The pro­mo­tion, he said, was part of a cam­paign by Xi to dis­man­tle the sys­tem of po­lit­i­cal suc­ces­sion es­tab­lished by his di­rect pre­de­ces­sor Hu Jin­tao and former premier Wen Ji­abao, who have main­tained con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence even in re­tire­ment.

“If not for this un­ex­pected event ... Sun could have en­tered the stand­ing com­mit­tee,” he said.

Ax­ing him was likely a warn­ing from Xi to his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents ahead of an im­por­tant lead­er­ship meet­ing in Au­gust at Bei­daihe, the ocean­side re­treat where the coun­try’s top politi­cians will gather to dis­cuss suc­ces­sion is­sues ahead of the party congress, Chen Daoyin said.

The de­ci­sion shows that Xi “is the dom­i­nant voice in the party, and he can im­ple­ment his own will in per­son­nel plan­ning.”

But Chen’s pro­mo­tion is also an im­por­tant step to­wards ce­ment­ing Xi’s power over the party for decades to come, ac­cord­ing to Ling Li, an ex­pert on Chi­nese pol­i­tics at Aus­tria’s In­sti­tute for Hu­man Sciences.

The pres­i­dent is al­lowed two fiveyear terms, but many an­a­lysts spec­u­late he wants to en­sure he will main­tain con­trol of the coun­try even af­ter he leaves of­fice.

Chen, 56, “is much younger than many of other trusted fol­low­ers of Xi Jin­ping, and el­i­gi­ble to stay for 2-3 terms if he gets pro­moted at the up­com­ing party congress,” Li said.

“There­fore the ap­point­ment is strate­gic and con­se­quen­tial for the over­all power plan of Mr. Xi.”

As for Chongqing’s new party boss, his path is clear, Chen Daoyin said: “In the fu­ture, he will be (Xi’s) suc­ces­sor.” – AFP

Photo taken last month shows China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in­spect­ing Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army sol­diers at a bar­racks in Hong Kong. A lead­er­ship change in Chongqing high­lights his am­bi­tion to con­sol­i­date his grip on power. Photo: AFP

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