China's former president Hu Jintao slips further down party ranks

China's newly-elected President Xi Jinping (right) talks with China's former President Hu Jintao during the fourth plenary meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2013. -- PHOTO: RE
China's newly-elected President Xi Jinping (right) talks with China's former President Hu Jintao during the fourth plenary meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao has slipped further down the Communist Party rankings, state-run media said on Tuesday, as his successor Xi Jinping consolidates his authority in the one-party state.

Mr Hu had been listed after members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful body, in official media news reports since the country's once-in-a-decade power transition in October 2012 that anointed Mr Xi as the new head of the Communist Party.

But he was given a lower position in a Friday report about the funeral of a retired provincial official in Jiangsu, with his name slotted below members of the 25-strong Politburo, which is under the Standing Committee, in the list of dignitaries who sent their condolences, according to the Global Times. Mr Xi was highlighted in a separate sentence at the beginning of the report, said the paper, which is close to the ruling party.

"The lowered position sends a positive signal that retired top officials will not interfere with current leadership," the report cited Mr Yin Yungong, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think-tank, as saying.

The ranking of officials is highly sensitive and closely watched in China as it often indicates power changes.

Professor Wang Zhanyang, a professor with the Central Institute of Socialism, told the Global Times that Hu's new ranking indicated "strong support for Xi's core role in the new central leadership".

The change came amid speculation that the ongoing anti-corruption campaign under Mr Xi, which has ensnared dozens of high-ranking officials including China's ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang, is pointing at other allies of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

Mr Jiang's name often appeared immediately after Mr Hu's in state media reports during the latter's 10 years in office, underlining the enduring influence of the head of the so-called Shanghai Gang.

In January 2013, the official Xinhua news agency said that Mr Jiang "requested" his name be placed below those of serving party and state leaders and alongside other retired senior officials.

Last month, the Shanghai authorities announced that Mr Wang Zongnan, a former official turned businessman who is believed to be an associate of Mr Jiang, was put under investigation for suspected embezzlement of public funds, stoking rumours that anti-graft investigators were turning their focus to the former leader's power base.