BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping's corruption-fighting right-hand man Wang Qishan will step down from the top leadership to be replaced by Xi ally Zhao Leji, sources tell The Nikkei.
Xi had sought to retain Wang, who at 69 exceeds the Communist Party's traditional retirement age of 68. But keeping him on the all-powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee faced strong opposition in a party that has seen many figures large and small brought down by the crackdown on corruption, the sources said.
Rather than wage a potentially bitter battle that could weaken him at the start of his second term as China's leader, Xi appears instead to have moved to promote Zhao -- a trusted figure who heads the organization department of the party's Central Committee. But some speculate that Wang will remain a key figure in Xi's lineup by occupying a senior government or other position.
The Communist Party is in the midst of a twice-a-decade congress to determine its leadership for the next five years. The gathering ends Tuesday with the unveiling of the new Standing Committee.
As organization chief, Zhao has backed the appointment of Xi loyalists to party positions in Beijing, Chongqing and other important places, helping solidify the president and party leader's power base.
Zhao is expected to double as head of the national supervisory commission to be established next spring as a nationwide anti-corruption watchdog. This would give him considerable powers as chief of a body likely to hold a similar status as the State Council -- China's government -- or the National People's Congress, its legislature.
Xi and Premier Li Keqiang will remain on the Politburo Standing Committee. They will likely be joined by Li Zhanshu, one of Xi's closest allies and director of the Central Committee's general office. Vice Premier Wang Yang and Han Zheng, party secretary for Shanghai, are also seen as poised for promotion to the Standing Committee.
Assuming that Zhao takes one seat and the committee membership remains seven, one slot would be left to fill. Names mentioned as candidates include Xi ally Chen Min'er, the party secretary of Chongqing, as well as Hu Chunhua, the party head of Guangdong. Their promotion to the committee would make them potential candidates to succeed their leader. But media outlets including the South China Morning Post report that policy researcher Wang Huning is expected to be elevated to the Standing Committee.