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China May Give Xi Military Post to Endorse Succession

Xi Jinping, China's vice president
Xi Jinping, China's vice president. Photographer: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg

China’s Vice President Xi Jinping may be appointed today to help oversee the 2-million-strong armed forces, strengthening his position to be the next leader of the world’s most-populous nation.

Xi, 57, is set to become a vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, analysts including Victor Shih said. The title, bestowed upon President Hu Jintao in 1999 when he was vice president, would enable Xi to solidify ties with the People’s Liberation Army ahead of a 2012 party congress that will choose the new leadership. Hu chairs the military commission and is party general secretary.

“It would be very unseemly not to admit Xi into the CMC at this point,” said Shih, a professor who teaches Chinese politics and finance at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. “If he is smart, he will keep his head down and defer to Hu.”

China’s leaders gathered behind closed doors at a Beijing hotel on Oct. 15 for a four-day meeting that will also shape a new five-year economic plan for the world’s second-biggest economy. The 200-plus permanent members of the party’s central committee may also have discussed ways to address a gaping wealth gap that the official Xinhua News Agency called a “severe social reality” in its preview of the annual plenum.

Xinhua said the party was likely to endorse Hu’s call for an “inclusive growth” model to address inequality. The agency cited the World Bank’s finding that the Gini coefficient -- a measure of inequality -- reached 0.47 in 2009, exceeding the 0.4 mark that is a predictor of social unrest.

Audi A6 Sedans

The party plenum is closed to foreign media. Security guards at the Jingxi Hotel wouldn’t allow journalists to take pictures of the building on Oct. 15, saying it was a military district. Rows of Audi A6 sedans were seen parked inside the hotel grounds.

Many of China’s biggest state-run companies and top bankers are represented in the central committee or its roster of alternate members, including China Construction Bank Chairman Guo Shuqing and PetroChina Co. Chairman Jiang Jiemin, according to a 2007 membership list.

As a vice chairman of the military commission, Xi would have more say over the world’s second-biggest defense budget after the U.S., according to figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Xi held a staff job in the People’s Liberation Army in the early 1980s that included service at the commission, according to his official biography.

Politician Father

Xi, the son of a former vice premier, was previously party chief in eastern China’s Zhejiang province and in neighboring Shanghai. He was also in charge of organizing the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and last year’s celebrations marking 60 years of Communist Party rule. Xi served as Shanghai’s party secretary for a year after the previous incumbent, Chen Liangyu, was fired and later imprisoned for 18 years for corruption.

Xi holds a doctorate in law and a chemical engineering degree from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, Hu’s alma mater, according to his biography. He is married to a popular singer.

Chinese scholars refer to Xi as a “princeling” because he’s the son of a prominent official. His father, Xi Zhongxun, who died in 2002, was responsible for making southern China’s Guangdong province a centerpiece for economic opening in 1979. His recommendations were ratified at the time by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, according to his official biography.

Shenzhen’s Development

In 1980, China made the Guangdong fishing village of Shenzhen, which abuts Hong Kong, a special economic zone. It is now a Chicago-sized metropolis with a per capita income of more than $10,000 a year.

The elder Xi was a vice premier from 1959-62 before falling out of favor with Chairman Mao Zedong, who had established the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Like many elite youths, Xi Jinping was sent to the countryside during China’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

“I ate a lot more bitterness than most people” during the Cultural Revolution, Xi said in a 1996 interview cited in China Parenting Magazine. In the interview, Xi said he was imprisoned four times and called names such as “son of a bitch” and “reactionary student.”

The direction of China’s political development may also have featured at the Beijing meeting. In the run-up to the plenum, Premier Wen Jiabao called for a relaxation of state control of social and political affairs.

‘Black Hands’

A group of retired officials drawn from the military, state media and academia, last week accused “invisible black hands” of suppressing a speech last month in which Wen called for greater political openness to match economic gains. The open letter by party elders including Li Rui, Mao’s former secretary, was published on the Internet Oct. 11.

Should Xi not be named to the military commission, it may be a sign of further tensions among China’s rulers. Xi, as a “princeling,” is not in the same political faction as General Secretary Hu, said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“If he doesn’t get it that means that there is something wrong with the factional balance,” Lam said. “It means that Hu Jintao is powerful enough to not follow the rules.”

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