Xi Jinping confidant appointed Chongqing party boss

The switch to the Chongqing role signals that Mr Chen Min'er is virtually assured of a Politburo spot.
The switch to the Chongqing role signals that Mr Chen Min'er is virtually assured of a Politburo spot.

SHANGHAI/BEIJING • China has named rising political star Chen Min'er as Communist Party boss in south-western Chongqing, cementing his reputation as a favourite of President Xi Jinping ahead of a leadership reshuffle at a key party congress in the autumn.

The elevation of Mr Chen, a trusted confidant of Mr Xi, is a sign that the President is flexing his political muscles as he manoeuvres to line up a new Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China.

Mr Chen previously worked under Mr Xi in Zhejiang province, where Mr Xi was then provincial party leader, and has since ridden the coat-tails of his former boss, climbing rapidly through the party ranks. Foreign diplomats who have met Mr Chen say he talks openly about his closeness to Mr Xi.

Mr Chen, who moves to Chongqing from the south-western province of Guizhou, takes over from Mr Sun Zhengcai, the official news agency Xinhua said, without saying where Mr Sun would go next.

Chongqing television's main evening news showed Mr Chen giving a speech to senior city officials, telling them he would not let down the party's trust in giving him such an important job. Mr Sun did not appear to be present at the meeting.

Chongqing is perhaps best known for its association with its disgraced former party boss Bo Xilai, once himself a contender for top leadership before being jailed for life in 2013 in a dramatic corruption scandal. Mr Chen said officials must "resolutely eliminate the malign influence" of the Bo case, Chongqing television reported.

Mr Chen was made Guizhou deputy party secretary in 2012, but was promoted to governor less than a year later and within roughly a month of Mr Xi becoming president, before moving up again to his current role as Guizhou party boss in 2015.

The switch from Guizhou to the more high-profile Chongqing role signals that Mr Chen is virtually assured of a Politburo spot. But the change so close to the 19th Party Congress may mean he has to wait longer for further promotion, as it would be unusual to move the holder of such an important post within months.

Mr Sun had been seen as another potential candidate for elevation, but sources with ties to the leadership and foreign diplomats say he has been out of favour after the party's anti-corruption watchdog this year criticised the Chongqing authorities for not doing enough to root out Bo's influence.

For decades, Guizhou was one of China's most backward provinces, but in recent years the central government has poured in billions of yuan, with a focus on poverty alleviation and big data.

Xinhua said Guizhou Governor Sun Zhigang - no relation to Mr Sun Zhengcai - had taken over as the province's party chief.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 16, 2017, with the headline 'Xi confidant appointed Chongqing party boss'. Print Edition | Subscribe