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China People's Congress

China grooms Xi's successor, skipping a generation

Young regional leaders possibly candidates for presidency in 2027

The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the National People's Congress is held. The rising stars of China's younger generation of politicians born after 1970 are on display at this year's event.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Rising Communist Party stars in their 40s have emerged as China's next potential leaders, outshining candidates born in the 1960s now that President Xi Jinping's rule is set to extend past the traditional decade mark.

The most well-known of the so-called "after '70" crowd is Hu Haifeng, the 46-year-old son of former President Hu Jintao and party secretary of Lishui, a small city in Zhejiang Province. The younger Hu is expected to be promoted to party secretary of Xian in Shaanxi Province, making him the party boss of northwestern China's main city and putting him in a position equal in significance to vice governor of the province.

Hu attended the National People's Congress as the chosen representative from Zhejiang but declined to comment on leadership changes at the annual meeting of China's legislature, Hong Kong media reported.

Xi's relationship with Hu Jintao is friendly and the president occasionally asks his predecessor for advice on political issues, according to several party sources. The treatment Hu Haifeng has received may be out of Xi's consideration for his father.

Shaanxi will be a trial by fire for Hu. The province is in disarray after several officials lost their posts due to scandal over the illegal construction of luxury villas. Whether he is successful there will likely determine the fate of his political career.

Another contender is 43-year-old Qie Yingcai, who became China's youngest mayor late last year as head of Xiangyang in Hubei Province, according to Chinese media. He is also a veteran of the party's General Office. At his local people's congress, Qie said that he wants Xiangyang to be a model city for new energy vehicles and smart cars as part of his effort to reform local industry.

There are other promising candidates who have yet to be chosen as NPC representatives.

China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission Vice Chairman Zhou Liang, 47, served as secretary to Vice President Wang Qishan during his tenure as Beijing mayor. He is seen as a close aide to Wang, having assumed a post at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection when Wang was appointed secretary of the anti-corruption watchdog.

Zhuge Yujie, 47, has spent his entire career in Shanghai and currently serves as secretary-general of the party's Shanghai municipal committee, a rank on a par with a vice provincial governor.

China's president was previously limited to two terms, for a total of 10 years, meaning that the successor to the 1953-born Xi would likely have been born in the 1960s. But a revision to the country's constitution a year ago lifted those limits, allowing Xi to pursue a third term. Should he serve another five-year term, that would increase the likelihood of China's next leader coming from the batch of candidates born after 1970.

Those who thrive in brutal competition will be selected for top posts at the twice-a-decade National Congress in 2022, setting them up to be chosen for the nation's highest offices at the following convention in 2027.

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