China's Tianjin gets new party chief

Mr Li (left) replaces Mr Huang (right), who is under a corruption probe. Analysts say Mr Li has a high chance of getting into the elite Politburo.
Mr Li (above) replaces Mr Huang, who is under a corruption probe. Analysts say Mr Li has a high chance of getting into the elite Politburo.PHOTOS: WEIBO OF CAIXIN, MCI
Mr Li (left) replaces Mr Huang (right), who is under a corruption probe. Analysts say Mr Li has a high chance of getting into the elite Politburo.
Mr Li replaces Mr Huang (above), who is under a corruption probe. Analysts say Mr Li has a high chance of getting into the elite Politburo.PHOTOS: WEIBO OF CAIXIN, MCI

China has appointed Mr Li Hongzhong as Tianjin's new party chief to replace Mr Huang Xingguo, who is under a corruption probe.

Mr Li, 60, whose portfolio includes oversight of a government- led Sino-Singapore project in the north-eastern port city, is now seen as a key contender for a spot in the 25-member Politburo.

His appointment came after it was reported last Saturday that Mr Huang, the city's mayor and acting party boss, was being investigated for "serious disciplinary violations", a euphemism for corruption.

The official Xinhua news agency yesterday said Mr Huang would no longer hold his Tianjin posts and would be "handled according to relevant laws and regulations".

Analysts say Mr Li, who is not known to be linked to any political faction in the Chinese Communist Party, has a high chance of getting into the elite Politburo at next year's party congress.

The Shandong native previously spent 19 years in southern Guangdong province. He was the mayor of Shenzhen from 2003 to 2005, and then its party boss from 2005 to 2007. He became the governor of Hubei province in 2007 and then provincial party boss in 2010.

"The previous party chiefs of Tianjin have typically been elevated, so it should not be an exception in this case," Peking University political analyst Zhang Jian told The Straits Times.

"Li's promotion shows that he is someone trusted by President Xi Jinping," Professor Zhang added.

Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam noted that Mr Li has been characterised as a rising star "for quite some time" and is seen as one of the more competent and brighter leaders among his peers.

Given Mr Li's age, Prof Lam believes his chances of promotion beyond Politburo member are slim.

"Mr Xi is looking for (younger) rising stars born in the 1960s to form the next generation of leadership. Li will most likely serve just one term," he added.

In practical terms, Prof Zhang thinks that Mr Li's appointment will have little impact on how things are run in the municipality.

This is because local leaders have been given less room to assert their own governance style in recent years, said Prof Zhang.

"So it really doesn't matter who does the job. It will be more or less the same," he added.

Still, Prof Lam thinks Mr Li will be a "useful technocrat" who can fulfil the job of developing Tianjin as a part of the Bohai Economic Rim quite efficiently.

Tianjin is a key city in the northern economic region, which includes capital Beijing and parts of Hebei, Liaoning and Shandong provinces. It is also home to the Tianjin Eco-city, a government-led Sino-Singapore project that broke ground in 2008.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Tianjin gets new party chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe