China’s Communist Party replaced Ling Jihua, an ally of Hu Jintao, as head of the office that oversees security for the country’s top leaders, signaling the outgoing president may have fewer proteges on the ruling Politburo after a leadership transition later this year.
Ling was replaced by former Guizhou Party Secretary Li Zhanshu as head of the party’s general office, the official Xinhua News Agency said Sept. 1. Ling takes over the United Front Work Department, which handles relations with non-party organizations and figures including the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
The personnel changes may be part of political jockeying ahead of the party’s 18th Congress, where China’s leaders will pick a new generation to rule the world’s most-populous nation for the next decade. The appointments mean that Ling may not secure a spot on the party’s Politburo at the congress, said Joseph Fewsmith, director of the Center for the Study of Asia at Boston University.
“I think it was a swap, a Hu ally for a Hu ally, but not an equal swap,” Fewsmith, who focuses on China’s elite politics, said in an e-mail. “Ling was a very viable candidate for the Politburo, Li is not.”
While the party has said that 2,270 delegates will attend the congress, its date has not been announced. Ling had been mentioned by analysts including Li Cheng of the Brookings Institution as a possible candidate for the party’s elite Politburo Standing Committee. Fewsmith said that it is now “highly improbable” that Ling will win a post on the Politburo, let alone its smaller standing committee.
The South China Morning Post, citing a Chinese official and media sources that it did not identify, reported today that Ling’s son, Ling Gu, was killed in a car crash in March when he was driving a Ferrari in Beijing. The crash occurred three days after Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, whose son has been reported driving luxury cars, was ousted as Chongqing Party Secretary.
“To have two sons of high-ranking party leaders driving around in very expensive cars was too much,” Fewsmith said, commenting on why the news of the March crash was blocked on many mainland websites.
Ling will replace Du Qinglin, who has reached retirement age, according to Xinhua. Ling remains a member of the Secretariat of the Party’s central committee, which runs the day-to-day affairs of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, the highest ruling body.
82 Million Members
At the congress, Vice President Xi Jinping, 59, is forecast to take over from Hu and head the 82 million-member Communist Party. Vice Premier Li Keqiang, 57, is in line to replace Wen Jiabao as premier early next year.
The General Office is responsible for security and logistics for China’s top leaders. Former heads include Wen and former Vice President Zeng Qinghong.
Li Zhanshu, 62, has been a provincial leader in provinces including Hebei, Shaanxi, Heilongjiang and Guizhou, according to his official biography. He was the leader of Wuji county in Hebei from 1983 to 1985. Vice President Xi’s official resume shows he was party secretary of neighboring Zhengding county during that period.
Li served as head of the Communist Party’s Youth League in Hebei from 1986 to 1990. Hu was head of the Youth League from 1984 to 1985, according to his official biography. Hu also served as party secretary of Guizhou earlier in his career.
Guizhou, in southwestern China, is the nation’s poorest province, according to National Bureau of Statistics data. Fixed-asset investment in the first half of the year rose 60 percent, Guizhou government data show, almost three times the national growth rate. The province said in July it was considering more than 2,300 projects involving total investment of 3 trillion yuan ($472 billion) related to ecotourism.
Li “made great contributions” to Guizhou’s economic development, Zhang Jinan, deputy director of the party’s Organization Department, which decides on promotions and personnel changes, was quoted as saying by the Guizhou Daily in July.
Like Xi, Li comes from a revolutionary family, albeit lower-profile. More than 20 members of Li’s family fought in wars against Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists and Japan, according to a 2008 Xinhua report. Li’s great uncle, Li Zaiwen, was deputy governor of Shandong province during the 1960s.
Searches for Li Zhanshu and Ling Jihua in Chinese on Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like Weibo microblogging service come up empty and display a message saying that based on relevant laws, regulations and policies, the results can’t be displayed.
Ling, still relatively young at 55, may be able to make a mark in his new post overseeing relations with Tibet and other areas with ethnic minorities, said Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University in New York.
“The United Front has been regarded increasingly as an embarrassment by many Chinese officials over the last fifteen years because it has completely bungled its handling of Tibetan issues,” Barnett said in an e-mail. “Ling could turn that around easily within a few weeks if given the authorization to do that.”
— With assistance by Michael Forsythe, and Fan Wenxin