Who’s Hu? Ireland welcomes another future Chinese leader

Cantillon: Hu Chunhua is tipped for great things, and Irish visit might bring him luck

Chinese president Xi Jinping: visited Ireland as provincial party secretary of Zhejiang province in 2003. Will Hu Chunhua’s visit to Ireland similarly bode well for  his political future? Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese president Xi Jinping: visited Ireland as provincial party secretary of Zhejiang province in 2003. Will Hu Chunhua’s visit to Ireland similarly bode well for his political future? Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

 

Hu Chunhua, the Communist Party general secretary of the economically muscular Guangdong province in southern China who is visiting Ireland this week, is emerging as a force with which to be reckoned in the often-opaque world of Chinese politics.

There are precedents for future Chinese leaders coming to Ireland – it has almost become a badge of honour. President Xi Jinping visited Ireland as vice-premier in 2012, shortly before he became supreme leader, but he previously visited as provincial party secretary of Zhejiang province in 2003. And Jiang Zemin, who later became president, visited in 1980. All of them paid their respects in Shannon, a model for free trade zones in China and a place of pilgrimage for Communist Party grandees.

Eventual successor

Hu Chunhua, who runs a province with a GDP of over €1 trillion, is expected to be named to the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee at the party’s 19th National Congress in November. There are even whisperings that he could be an eventual successor to President Xi.

Hu is known in China for his intelligence. Hailing from a humble farming background in the rural province of Hubei in central China, Hu was a child prodigy, gaining the top score in the whole country in the gaokao, the university matriculation examination, in 1979, and becoming the youngest in his class at Peking University. He graduated with a degree in Chinese language and literature in August 1983 aged just 20.

Difficult postings

Hu was promoted to be a non-standing member of the Politburo and Guangdong party chief in 2012, after a career spent in the difficult postings of Tibet, Hebei and Inner Mongolia.

Running Guangdong is a great launchpad to rise up the ranks of the party and he has won kudos with Xi by launching a major anti-corruption drive in the province.

At a recent party meeting, Hu namechecked Xi 26 times in a speech and praised Xi’s role as the core of the party leadership seven times, according to the South China Morning Post.

Xi responded by praising his work in Guangdong, kick-starting renewed speculation that Hu is earmarked for greatness. The Irish visit will certainly help.

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