The Chinese Communist Party has kicked off a search for up to 3,000 young cadres for fast-track promotion, ahead of a five-yearly congress in 2022 to fill a generational gap and possibly serve as a pool from which to choose the country's next generation of leaders, sources said.
President Xi Jinping intends to put middle-ranking cadres selected for grooming in key positions in provincial and city governments, party apparatuses, Cabinet ministries and state-owned enterprises to test their loyalty, competence and mettle, said two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
"This is Xi's 'One Hundred Year Grand Plan' to select loyal, reliable and able leaders for generations to come," a party source told The Straits Times, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for speaking to foreign media about the initiative.
Mr Hu Haifeng, the only son of Mr Xi's immediate predecessor Hu Jintao, is likely to be fast-tracked, the sources said. It was unclear when he would be promoted or what position he would get, but it could be as early as this year.
The younger Hu holds a position equivalent to director-general of a ministry department, as party secretary of Lishui city in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang.
The move comes on the heels of Mr Xi shrinking the Communist Youth League, known as the party's "reserve army". The Youth League faction, known in Chinese as "tuanpai", was once a stepping stone for political rising stars and has produced two party chiefs: Mr Hu Yaobang and Mr Hu Jintao. The two Hus are not related.
The party unveiled in March new regulations for choosing leading cadres, but gave scant details.
Mr Xi had asked the party's organisation, or personnel, department months ago to identify young middle-ranking cadres eligible for promotion ahead of the party's 20th congress in 2022, the sources said.
This is Xi's 'One Hundred Year Grand Plan' to select loyal, reliable and able leaders for generations to come.
AN ANONYMOUS SOURCE, on Beijing's search for young and middle-ranking cadres born in the 1970s and 1980s, who will be marked for prominent positions.
President Xi, who doubles as party chief, revealed his criteria for aspirants as those who "firmly believe in socialism with Chinese characteristics, (willing to) serve the people, diligent and pragmatic, and dare to take responsibility as well as (being) clean and honest", state media reported.
They should be "loyal, sincere and honest" and "obey and follow the party", Mr Xi said, adding that candidates should be "grateful to the people, self-motivated, respect and fear laws", as well as being disciplined in their conduct.
Based on recommendations from ministerial and provincial departments, nominees will be asked to write essays about themselves, their political aspirations and world views, the sources said.
Central-level department officials will fan out across the country and interview contenders face to face, the sources said, adding that anti-corruption investigators will conduct background checks on them and their families.
About 1,000 middle-ranking cadres born in the 1970s will be fast-tracked to positions equivalent to a Cabinet minister or vice-minister ahead of the 20th congress, or after the annual full session of Parliament in 2023, the sources said.
Up to 2,000 candidates born in the 1980s will be groomed to become at least department director-general of a ministry or provincial government.
Names could be added to or dropped from the list, which will include women and members of ethnic minority groups, but will not cover People's Liberation Army officers, according to the sources.
The party spokesman's office did not respond to a telephone and fax request for comment.
Mr Xi is the country's fifth-generation leader after Chairman Mao Zedong, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, and former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Chairman Mao founded the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Mr Xi did not have much of a power base when he took the helm in 2012, and had to rely on people he knew from his days at Tsinghua University and during his stints in Hebei, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, as well as Shanghai.
Building a personal power base and campaigning for promotion by those before they reach the height of power are taboo in communism.
Mr Xi did not anoint an heir apparent at the 19th party congress in 2017, a clear indication that he would stay on after 2022. It was also a departure from the 25-year-old practice in which a leader's successor is chosen by his predecessor.
Last year, Parliament scrapped the two-term limit on the presidency, another sign that Mr Xi will hang on after the 20th congress. The party holds a congress once every five years.
Mr Xi is expected to name his preferred candidate, or candidates, to eventually succeed him at the next congress when he further consolidates power. But it is unclear if the sixth-generation leader will be someone born in the 1960s or 1970s.
The party is suffering from a generational gap, with only five politicians born in the 1970s among alternate members of its Central Committee and provincial Standing Committee members, holding a rank equivalent to a Cabinet vice-minister or provincial vice-governor.
Only two of the 172 alternate members of the Central Committee, two notches below the Politburo, were born in the 1970s. Twenty are women and 22 belong to ethnic minority groups, accounting for 11.6 per cent and 12.8 per cent of the total respectively, research by The Straits Times showed.
Of the 213 members of the party's provincial Standing Committees, three were born in the 1970s. Twenty-eight, or 13.1 per cent, are women, while 48, or 22.5 per cent, belong to ethnic minority groups.
The most prominent of those born in the 1970s is Mr Zhuge Yujie, 48, a member of Shanghai's Standing Committee who is also secretary-general of the city's party committee.
"Cadres born in the 1950s or 1960s do not necessarily owe their rise to Xi, but the 3,000 will definitely be loyal to him," said a party source.