China has appointed new party chiefs for Xinjiang and Tibet, continuing a series of provincial personnel reshuffles as President Xi Jinping looks to put trusted aides in charge of the country's two most politically sensitive regions and to cement his power base ahead of a leadership transition next year.
Mr Chen Quanguo, 61, who helmed the Tibet autonomous region for five years from 2011, has replaced Politburo member Zhang Chunxian, 63, as Xinjiang party boss, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.
Tibet's new party boss is Mr Wu Yingjie, 60, a Shandong native who has worked in Tibet since 1974 and became deputy party secretary in November 2011.
There were no details on Mr Zhang's next post. But Hong Kong media reported that he would be appointed deputy leader in a leading small group on party construction, which is said to be headed by propaganda chief Liu Yunshan.
Hong Kong-based analyst Joseph Cheng said though Mr Zhang appears to be getting a semi-retirement post, it does not mean his chances of entering the apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) at next year's 19th party congress have been dashed.
"It could be a signal Zhang Chunxian is being groomed to replace Liu Yunshan, who is reportedly Xi Jinping's rival in the PSC. We need to see if Zhang gets other substantial roles," Professor Cheng added.
6 NEW PARTY BOSSES
XINJIANG: Former Tibet party boss Chen Quanguo, 61, takes over from Mr Zhang Chunxian, 63, whose next role could be as deputy leader of a leading small group on party construction.
TIBET: Deputy party boss Wu Yingjie, 59, replaces Mr Chen as top Communist Party official in the autonomous region.
YUNNAN: Governor Chen Hao, 62, is promoted to replace Mr Li Jiheng, 59, as party chief.
INNER MONGOLIA: Mr Li Jiheng now helms the autonomous region, replacing incumbent Wang Jun, 64.
HUNAN: Governor Du Jiahao, 61, replaces former party boss Xu Shousheng, 63, as party chief of the central province.
ANHUI: Governor Li Jinbin, 61, is now the new party boss of the central province, replacing former boss Wang Xuejun, 64.
Peking University political analyst Zhang Jian believes Mr Zhang's PSC chances might even be higher if he were to take on the new post.
"This is because party construction has become more important under Xi's leadership," he told The Straits Times. Lanzhou University's counter-terror expert Yang Shu said most people would appraise Mr Zhang's stint in Xinjiang positively, given the dip in violence after a flurry of attacks, such as the suicide car crash near Tiananmen Square in 2013.
"But we should also be aware that Xinjiang benefited from the central government's policy support and also the Silk Road revival efforts," he told The Straits Times.
Mr Chen's move marks the first direct transfer of a party boss from Tibet to Xinjiang, say observers.
Professor Yang said Mr Chen's Xinjiang appointment might be aimed at tapping his familiarity with ethnic minority and security issues during his Tibet tenure.
Prof Cheng said Mr Zhang's move and other provincial personnel changes announced since Sunday are also aimed at rewarding Mr Xi's supporters with plum posts and placing them in prime spots to take up leading roles later.
For instance, two of President Xi's former subordinates are now provincial party chiefs.
One of them is Mr Chen Hao, 62, promoted from Yunnan governor to party chief of the south-western province. The other is Mr Du Jiahao, 61, the new party boss of central Hunan province, replacing Mr Xu Shousheng, 63.
Both Mr Chen and Mr Du had worked briefly with Mr Xi in 2007, the same year that Mr Xi emerged as heir-apparent to then President Hu Jintao.
The spotlight now falls on a handful of provinces, which may also see leadership changes as their incumbent leaders are Politburo members who are either reaching retirement age or tipped to enter the next PSC.
Apart from Beijing party chief Guo Jinlong, 69, who is likely to retire, Mr Han Zheng, 62, Mr Hu Chunhua, 53, and Mr Sun Zhengcai, 52, who helm Shanghai, Guangdong and Chongqing respectively, are seen as PSC contenders.