Xi looks set to keep close aide Wang past retirement age

The fate of the 69-year-old Mr Wang Qishan, who keeps a low public profile but is often described as China's second-most powerful politician, has been a source of intense speculation ahead of the party congress next week.
The fate of the 69-year-old Mr Wang Qishan, who keeps a low public profile but is often described as China's second-most powerful politician, has been a source of intense speculation ahead of the party congress next week.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to retain his right-hand man, the graft-buster Wang Qishan, in a senior position at a key Communist Party Congress this month even though he has reached retirement age, according to a majority of people with ties to the leadership interviewed by Reuters.

The fate of the 69-year-old Mr Wang, who keeps a low public profile but is often described as China's second-most powerful politician, has been a source of intense speculation ahead of the congress, which opens next Wednesday.

Twelve of the 16 people with ties to China's leadership, including former officials as well as relatives, aides and close friends of current and former senior officials, said Mr Wang was likely to retain a leadership role.

They said it was unclear what his title would be and whether he would remain on the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. The other four said he would probably step down.

Under one scenario, Mr Wang would become one of two vice-chairmen of the National Security Commission, set up in 2013 to increase coordination among the branches of China's security bureaucracy and headed by Mr Xi, three of the sources said.

Under other scenarios, Mr Wang could become premier - replacing Mr Li Keqiang, a role that traditionally includes management of the economy, or head of Parliament.

"He will most likely stay on in some form, maintaining a position of power. He's important to Xi," said Mr Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator and historian.

STRENGTH IN ECONOMIC POLICY

Wang Qishan has a very strong economic policy voice. I could entirely see a circumstance under which he's given another role that brought that out more.

MR DUNCAN INNES-KER, regional director for Asia for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Regardless of title, Mr Wang's next role may include a remit that extends to management of China's economy, whose growth is imperilled by heavy debt and inefficient state enterprises. Mr Wang was previously a vice-governor of the central bank.

"Wang Qishan has a very strong economic policy voice. I could entirely see a circumstance under which he's given another role that brought that out more," said Mr Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Some analysts and party insiders said that it was possible Mr Wang would simply retire, as precedent dictates.

Having overseen the jailing or punishment of more than one million Communist Party, government and military officials, Mr Wang has accumulated many enemies, the sources said. Keeping Mr Wang on the standing committee at the expense of younger candidates for promotion could also put pressure on Mr Xi.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2017, with the headline 'Xi looks set to keep close aide Wang past retirement age'. Print Edition | Subscribe