Chinese power shift to begin next month

Mon, Sep 3, 2012, 01:00

THE COMMUNIST Party Congress to start the transfer of power to a younger generation of leaders in China will take place between October 15th and 18th, The Irish Times has learned.

The 82-million-member party has started to reshuffle key personnel ahead of the once-in-a-decade transition, appointing a close ally of incoming president Xi Jinping to a top position.

The date of the 18th congress, which will begin the procedure to install Mr Xi as supreme leader in China, has not been publicly announced yet. All Beijing has said so far is that it would take place later this year.

There has been speculation in various media that it might be delayed because of faction fighting over what to do about purged former rising star, Bo Xilai.

Personnel in the ranks had been informed they should gear up for the event, a source said, adding: “They will work very hard to put the Bo story behind them now”.

President Hu Jintao will step down as the party’s general secretary – the top party post – at the congress and resign from the presidency at a parliamentary meeting next March, ending his 10 years as China’s top leader.

Li Zhanshu, former head of the southwest province of Guizhou, was named on Saturday to head the party’s powerful Politburo general office.

The job gives Mr Li control of the party’s day-to-day affairs. He replaces Ling Jihua, Mr Hu’s top aide, who has been named to head the party’s United Front Work Department.

The outgoing leader usually fills the leadership with members of his power base, to ensure his legacy. It took Mr Hu years to oust the supporters of former leader Jiang Zemin from the committee, and Mr Jiang did not cede control of the military for two years after he had stepped down from his other leadership posts.

Seven Standing Committee members are stepping down, including Mr Hu, who holds the three top branches of power: president, Communist Party secretary and head of the central military commission that runs the military.

Vice-president Xi, who visited Ireland in February, is expected to succeed Mr Hu as party leader at the congress, before assuming the presidency in the spring. There is a question mark over when Mr Xi will be able to assume full control.

The background to the congress is the ongoing scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, purged as Chongqing party chief in March.

His wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, and was given a suspended death sentence.

The speedy completion of the trial suggests a deal may have been done to help Mr Hu secure his legacy amid frantic faction fighting ahead of the congress.

There has been speculation about whether the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee would remain at its current size of nine seats, shrink to seven, or even be expanded to 11.

Li Keqiang is expected to take over the premier’s position from Wen Jiabao.

The party is keen to stress this is a new generation running China, distinct from veterans of the civil war and Mao Zedong’s era.