BEIJING • After taking charge of the world's largest political party four years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping is starting to put his personal touch on the organisation.
A who's who of reshuffled provincial leaders sheds light on his effort to remake party leadership. The top officials of influential regions are all but guaranteed a seat on the 200- plus-member Central Committee at a twice-in-a-decade meeting next year.
"The recently promoted officials have a good chance to break into higher-ranking party circles at the party congress next year," said Professor Huang Weiping, director of the Contemporary Chinese Politics Research Institute at Shenzhen University. Their prospects "look promising" for 2022, he said, when China is expected to anoint its next top leader.
Past Chinese leaders boasted deep networks from which to promote loyalists. Former president Hu Jintao, for instance, elevated proteges from the 87-million-member Communist Youth League.
Mr Xi, whose father is revolutionary leader Xi Zhongxun, spent most of his career in the eastern regions of Fujian and Zhejiang, away from traditional sources of power.
The June appointment of 57-year- old Li Qiang (photo) - Zhejiang's former No. 2 - to lead neighbouring Jiangsu province was among the most eye-catching of recent moves.
Mr Li was promoted in 2004 to secretary of Zhejiang's provincial party committee.
His efforts to develop "small- town economies", or clusters of high-tech and innovation-focused businesses, were endorsed last September by Mr Xi's finance and economic chief Liu He.
Mr Li has a weighty gig in Jiangsu, a coastal province with an economy larger than Indonesia's where seven high-ranking officials have fallen to corruption probes since Mr Xi came to power.
Some promotions broke with past patterns. The party secretary job in Tibet went to the Himalayan region's relatively unknown deputy leader, 59-year-old Wu Yingjie (photo). Unlike his nine predecessors since 1980 who were all parachuted in from other regions, Mr Wu boasts deep experience in Tibet and arrived there when Mao Zedong was still alive. At his inauguration last month, Mr Wu pledged to fulfil Mr Xi's "deep hope" for Tibet.
Such moves have added uncertainty to the upcoming party congress, when scores of Central Committee seats will be replaced. Retirement rules - as they stand - call for replacing as many as 11 of the 25 members of the ruling Politburo, including five of the seven members on its elite Standing Committee.
"I see Xi as a calculating and therefore cautious risk-taker, in policy terms and in matters that can be deemed as party convention," said Professor Steve Tsang, who teaches Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham in the UK. "Xi does not refrain from breaking with existing practices where he sees a chance to do so successfully."
Clearing the way for new blood has meant some veterans were moved.
The top leaders of Hunan, Jiangxi and Shanxi were shuffled from provincial management roles two years ahead of the retirement age of 65. All three ended up with functional posts in China's rubber- stamp legislature.
For instance, former Hunan party secretary Xu Shousheng (photo), 63, was made deputy head of the National People's Congress' agriculture committee.
"It's quite clear now that officials who are under 63 and have won (Mr Xi's) trust are on their way up," said Professor Zhang Ming, a political science expert at Renmin University in Beijing.
Several officials who worked under Mr Xi during his brief stint in the financial hub of Shanghai in 2007 were also promoted.
Mr Du Jiahao (photo), who oversaw the Pudong district's development as a financial and trade centre, was appointed party secretary of central Hunan province.
The 61-year-old Shanghai native rides a bicycle to work to get to know the place and has pledged to help win Mr Xi's battle for "supply-side" reform.
Mr Xi's promotion of old associates at various levels, including some of them relatively junior, "increases political commotion and helps disturb the status quo", said Professor Zhang Ming, a political science expert at Renmin University in Beijing.
Hubei party secretary Li Hongzhong (photo), 60, was appointed to the top post in Tianjin.
Mr Li was among the first of several provincial leaders to declare Mr Xi as the "core" of the party last year, a designation that would strengthen the President's hand.