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North Korean-Schooled Zhang Picked to Replace Bo in Chongqing

Zhang Dejiang, a Chinese vice premier who oversees industrial and energy policy, was picked by the ruling Communist Party to take over Chongqing, replacing Bo Xilai, whose firing was announced today.

Zhang, a 65-year-old native of northeastern Liaoning province, rose to prominence under former President Jiang Zemin. He is in charge of areas including industrial production, transport and energy, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. He also meets foreign business leaders, including International Business Machines Corp. Chief Executive Officer Virginia Rometty, who met him last month in China’s leadership compound in central Beijing.

The choice of Zhang to replace Bo, whose removal was the strongest rebuke of a Politburo member in at least five years, is a signal that China’s leadership trusts him to take a difficult job. Zhang has been mentioned by analysts including Li Cheng at Washington’s Brookings Insitution as a candidate for the Politburo Standing Committee, the group, now with nine people, that exercises supreme authority in China. The party is set to pick a new standing committee later this year.

“In terms of economic policy and most likely any political reform he’s not known as a reform-oriented person, but has a reputation of being very steady wherever he serves,” said Victor Shih, a political economist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. “Part of the reason why he has been assigned to Chongqing is that he will provide relatively steady leadership to a city in turmoil.”

SARS, Train Crash

Zhang was Communist Party Secretary of southern China’s Guangdong Province from 2002 to 2007, coinciding with the 2003 SARS epidemic that scientists said may have originated in the region, and which the government initially covered up.

Zhang graduated from the economics department at Kim Il Sung University in North Korea and became a vice premier in 2008. He led the rescue efforts after a high-speed railway crash last July near the city of Wenzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province.

The 62-year-old Bo was ousted today after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, was put under investigation after he spent a day in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan earlier this year, sparking speculation he was seeking asylum.

Bo was seen yesterday in Beijing at the closing ceremony of the meeting of the National People’s Congress. Hours later, Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters that Chongqing leaders “must seriously reflect on the Wang Lijun incident and learn lessons from that incident.”

The appointment of Zhang ’’reflects the fact that the party’s leadership considers him to be an appropriate and mild choice,’’ said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of Chinese history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He has close ties with Jiang and is also on good terms with President Hu Jintao.”

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