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Beijing's Great Hall of the People before the opening of the National People's Congress on March 5 (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

China's young regional leaders vie for Xi Jinping's notice

Rising stars seek leadership down the road as president settles in for long term

BEIJING -- With Chinese President Xi Jinping set to stay on beyond his second term, regional politicians in their 40s are jockeying for future leadership against older figures previously thought to be next in line.

Regional leaders born in the 1970s have drawn notice at the ongoing National People's Congress with their effusive praise for Xi, as it begins to appear that the "post-Xi" or "sixth" generation comprised of Communist Party officials who were born during the prior decade may be skipped over for top leadership positions.

Leaders of cities outside major metropolitan areas make up about 10% of the roughly 3,000 representatives to the rubber-stamp congress this year, according to Chinese news media. Most were born in the 1960s, with just shy of 40 members born in the following decade. Those up-and-comers are "vying to join the top ranks and possibly become future leaders," said a Hong Kong newspaper reporter.

Hu Haifeng, son of former Chinese President Hu Jintao, is among the 40-something regional politicians making shows of fealty to leader Xi Jinping.

The 1972-born Hu Haifeng -- mayor of Jiaxing in the eastern province of Zhejiang and eldest son of former President Hu Jintao -- vowed to follow Xi's ideology Monday at a provincial subcommittee of the annual legislative session. Xi, when he was party secretary of Zhejiang, had formed "a clear growth strategy that abundantly drew on the characteristics" of the province, the mayor claimed.

The younger Hu joined the government in 2013 after heading a business linked to Xi's alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing. In late October, he welcomed Xi and six other top officials to Jiaxing, a city crucial to China's Communist revolution, and cited the importance of revolutionary spirit and of Xi's ideology.

Qie Yingcai, mayor of the city of Xiangyang in Hubei Province, said through a local Communist Party mouthpiece that "innovation will create the future, as General Secretary Xi has said." Qie, born in 1975, has worked for the party's General Office, which provides support for top leadership.

Another aspirational future leader born in the 1970s is A Dong. The mayor of Sanya on the southern edge of Hainan Island also declared his intention to follow the president's ideals.

At last fall's Communist Party National Congress, Xi passed on appointing an obvious successor from the 50-something cadre. With the NPC expected to amend China's constitution to remove presidential term limits, some expect that the baton may be passed directly to the 1970s generation, skipping over those of the previous decade.

But even with younger players garnering attention, their seniors close to Xi continue to bid for favor.

Former Xi aide and current Chongqing party secretary Chen Min'er has said the megacity -- whose former party bosses Bo Xilai and Sun Zhengcai were felled by allegations of corruption -- was able to get back on track thanks to Xi's "compassion and detailed leadership."

Li Xi, the party boss of Guangdong Province, said in an NPC subcommittee that "any problem can be solved as long as one fully understands and follows" the president's ideals.

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