Guangdong chief gets a shot in the arm

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond with Mr Hu Chunhua outside 11 Downing Street in London during the Guangdong party chief's visit to Britain last month. Such trips are often used by senior Chinese officials to burnish their internati
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond with Mr Hu Chunhua outside 11 Downing Street in London during the Guangdong party chief's visit to Britain last month. Such trips are often used by senior Chinese officials to burnish their international credentials ahead of promotions.PHOTO: REUTERS

Surprise dismissal of key regional rival may have bolstered his rising political star image

GUANGZHOU • Mr Hu Chunhua, Communist Party boss of China's southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong, has long been considered a rising political star. Now, the surprise dismissal of a key regional rival may well have bolstered that image.

Sources close to top party and government officials have long touted Mr Hu, 54, as one of the most promising of the so-called "sixth generation" of leaders born in the 1960s, someone who could be a contender for the top job when Chinese President Xi Jinping eventually steps down.

Last weekend, another high-flier from the same generation, Mr Sun Zhengcai, 53, was stripped of his position as Chongqing party chief and is said to be under probe.

Both Mr Hu and Mr Sun had been widely tipped as possible newcomers to the party's most powerful body, the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee, when the party holds its once-every-five years congress this autumn.

The sources said if the publicity- shy Mr Hu does not get on the Politburo Standing Committee, then he could be given another prominent position.

A Beijing-based Asian diplomat, citing conversations with Chinese officials, said Mr Hu could be sent to take over the high-profile but largely ceremonial advisory body to Parliament, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

A second source close to the Chinese leadership said Mr Hu may end up with a vice-premier spot, though not necessarily be promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee.

Little known internationally, Mr Hu spent most of his career in the restive region of Tibet, then became governor of northern Hebei province, and later Communist Party boss in Inner Mongolia.

He was catapulted in late 2012 to lead Guangdong - one of China's most important provinces - which includes Shenzhen city, home to many of China's best-known technology companies.

The Guangdong party secretary post is one of the most prominent provincial leadership roles in China, and has served as a springboard for many politicians towards more senior national posts. They include Mr Hu's predecessor Wang Yang, who is now a vice-premier.

Some who have worked with or met Mr Hu said he has a relatively relaxed and affable leadership style. They said he has pushed hard for poverty alleviation in less developed parts of Guangdong and for innovation, helping Shenzhen build up its technology sector.

Mr Hu himself has spoken of the key tasks of upgrading and restructuring Guangdong's economy and industrial base, and of easing social conflicts and land disputes.

During his tenure, Guangdong has retained its position as China's top economic province with gross domestic product (GDP) last year of US$1.16 trillion (S$1.6 trillion), making up 10 per cent of China's total GDP and around 28 per cent of its overall trade.

Mr Hu has given few clues about his deeper policy beliefs, besides an interest in China's more remote and poorer regions, stemming partly from his humble upbringing in a mountain village in Hubei province.

This year, there have been signs of his profile rising. In April, Mr Xi offered "full approval" of the Guangdong government's work since the last party congress in 2012, in what was interpreted as an indirect endorsement of Mr Hu.

Mr Hu also visited Israel, Ireland and Britain last month. Such trips are often used by senior officials to burnish their international credentials ahead of promotions.

"Mr Hu Chunhua's credentials are the deepest of the sixth generation (aspirants)," said a source with ties to the Chinese leadership.

"Unless he commits serious mistakes, Mr Xi has no reason not to let him move up."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Guangdong chief gets a shot in the arm'. Print Edition | Subscribe