Xi protege Li Xi named Guangdong party boss, replaces Hu Chunhua

Mr Li Xi (right) will no longer serve as party secretary of Liaoning province after he takes over from Mr Hu Chunhua.
Mr Li Xi (right) will no longer serve as party secretary of Liaoning province after he takes over from Mr Hu Chunhua.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE

BEIJING  - The party boss of Guangdong province, China’s economic powerhouse, has been replaced by a protege of President Xi Jinping, in one of the first of several reshuffles to come.

Mr Hu Chunhua, 54, who had been seen as a potential successor to Mr Xi until in recent months, has been replaced by Mr Li Xi, the party boss of Liaoning province.

Mr Li, 61, was newly promoted to the powerful 25-member Politburo last week after the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th national congress. 

He worked with Mr Xi when the latter was party chief of Zhejiang province from 2002 to 2007.

Mr Hu had been seen as a potential successor when, together with the now disgraced Chongqing party boss Sun Zhengcai, also 54, he was promoted to the Politburo in 2012, at the same time that Mr Xi assumed power as general secretary of the CCP.

Mr Hu and Mr Sun were born in the 1960s and had been expected to be promoted to the seven-member apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) at the just-ended congress.

However, Mr Sun was removed from his Chongqing post in July and expelled from the party last month amid allegations of corruption while Mr Hu did not make the cut for the PSC last week.

Mr Hu, while having professed loyalty to Mr Xi, is linked to the Communist Youth League faction of former president Hu Jintao and his accession to the PSC had become doubtful after Mr Sun’s fall.

“His career has peaked,” said Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam of Mr Hu Chunhua. 

He could be made one of the vice-premiers next March or be given a party job that is respectable but does not carry much power, Dr Lam added.

The speed with which Mr Hu was removed from the Guangdong post showed “Xi’s aggressiveness”, Dr Lam said. “He doesn’t waste time.”

Mr Li’s appointment was reported by Xinhua state news agency as being announced by Organisation Department chief Chen Xi, who before now was the deputy head of the powerful party unit that takes care of personnel matters.

It shows Mr Chen has taken over the post vacated by Mr Zhao Leji, who is the new anti-corruption csar.

Mr Chen, 64, is an ally of Mr Xi, with their friendship going back to the 1970s when they shared a dormitory as students of the prestigious Tsinghua University.

Other likely moves include that of current Jiangsu party boss Li Qiang, 58, another of Mr Xi’s proteges, who is expected to be made party boss of financial hub Shanghai. 

It is expected that in the weeks and months to come, Mr Xi’s allies and proteges, many of whom were elevated to the Politburo and the Central Committee, will be placed in key positions in the party and the State Council, China’s Cabinet.