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FT: Who Will be China’s Next Leaders?

Author: Geoff Dyer
March 4, 2011

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Geoff Dyer profiles the possible new leaders of China.

The streets at the centre of Beijing are eerily quiet over the week-long Chinese New Year holiday, which fell in early February this year, but outside one old house a few blocks from the Forbidden City, a steady stream of cars pulled up.

The holiday is a time to pay respects to family elders and mentors. I know people in their forties and fifties who still visit their -favourite school teacher over the break and among the upper -echelons of the Chinese Communist party, respected older comrades are given their due. The flurry of activity was outside the family home of Hu Yaobang, the former leader of the Chinese -Communist party who died in 1989. Among the dutiful visitors were Xi Jinping, the man slated to be the next president of China, and Li Keqiang, the likely next premier.

Calling on the widow of a former leader might seem run-of-the-mill, but Hu Yaobang is far from a run-of-the-mill figure in Communist party history. During the 1980s, the party split over whether its economic reforms should be combined with political opening. After pushing a liberal line, Hu was dramatically ousted from office in 1987 by more conservative members of the leadership. It was news of his death in April 1989, by then a broken man, that sparked the Tiananmen Square protests. In official celebrations of the party's history, his name is never mentioned. Along with Zhao Ziyang, the leader who succeeded him and who was then purged after Tiananmen, Hu was China's Gorbachev.

Next year, China will start a leadership transition, which will give the country a new president in place of Hu Jintao, who is also the head of the party and the military, and a new premier to replace Wen Jiabao, who runs the day-to-day business of the government. In 2007, a key party meeting in effect chose the next leadership team, when Xi -Jinping (pronounced Shee Jin-ping) and Li Keqiang (pronounced Lee Ke-chiang) were both promoted to the country's top body, the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee. Xi, now aged 57, became vice--president and 55-year-old Li one of four vice-premiers (the most senior, with responsibility for the economy, climate change, health and the environment), giving both five years to play understudy to their bosses.

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