July 16, 2017 1:54 am JST

Xi muddies own successor scenario

Naming of new Chongqing municipality chief a ploy to solidify loyalty

TETSUSHI TAKAHASHI, Head of Nikkei's China Headquarters

Guizhou Communist Party chief Chen Min'er, right, attends the National People's Congress in Beijing in March.

BEIJING -- The Chinese Communist Party's decision on Saturday to replace Sun Zhengcai with Chen Min'er as chief of the municipality of Chongqing provides a clue on who President Xi Jinping might want appointed his successor.

The move indicates Xi means to leave his intention unclear this fall at the once-every-five-years National Congress of the Communist Party. This way, hopefuls will continue working hard for him.

Sun, the outgoing Chongqing Communist Party head, joined the Politburo at the previous National Congress along with Guangzhou party chief Hu Chunhua. At that point, the two men were widely seen as the favorites in the post-Xi presidential race.

The general view has been that Sun and Hu need only to join the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee -- just as Xi did at the 2007 National Congress -- to further cement their credentials as favorites.

However, the latest personnel move has prompted speculation that Sun's chance of getting promoted to Standing Committee member may now be slim.

I would guess Xi's intention here is to wind back the presidential race, which had already been whittled down to only two candidates.

Essentially, Xi hit the restart button.

Now there are at least three new contenders -- Chen, the new Chongqing party chief; Zhang Qingwei, the Heilongjiang Communist Party chief; and Zhou Qiang, president and chief justice of the Supreme People's Court.

There is also speculation that Xi may be trying to muddy the waters because he wants to retain his post even after his current, second term as president expires in 2022.

One thing that appears certain, however, is that Xi is tightening his grip on party personnel ahead of the National Congress.

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