3 Nov 2012

Goodbye Hu, hello who?

As China’s president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao are replaced as the country’s leaders, who are the candidates tipped to take their places in charge of the world’s emerging superpower?

Two days after the citizens of the United States elect the man they want to lead them for the next four years, it is the turn of a small group of Chinese Communist party apparatchiks to decide which of their fellow apparatchiks will govern the country’s 1.3 billion people.

Nothing is known for certain about who will be in the new governing council, the politburo, though it will be mainly, if not wholly, men elected via a highly secretive process.

The once in a decade leadership change is a major event in China and its chiming with the presidential election of its US rival is highly unusual. After the hotly-tipped presidential candidate Bo Xilai was disgraced by revelations his wife had paid to have British businessman Neil Heywood killed, the tightly managed succession process was thrown off course.

Channel 4 News profiles the two men who are now thought to be in line to take over China’s top political posts at an historic crossroads for the country.

Xi Jinping (Reuters)

Xi Jinping

Born in 1953, Mr Xi is currently China’s vice-president and expected to take over as president. He was trained in chemical engineering at Tsinghua University later graduating from the same institution with a PhD in law.

He has held a number of provincial posts in the Communist party and is, so to speak, Communist party royalty. He is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a former Politburo member and vice premier who was one of the architects of China’s special economic zones in the early 1980s.

According to a profile in Stanford University’s China Leadership Monitor journal, Mr Xi is known for his “market-friendly approach to economic development” but is also known for his support for China’s flagship state-owned enterprises. He is thought to have conservative views regarding political reform in China.

In June, Bloomberg published details of the financial interests of Mr Xi’s family, culled from public documents. The documents did not trace any assets to Xi, his wife or daughter nor did they suggest he had used his position to advance his family’s interests.

For three weeks in August there was speculation about his wherabouts when he appeared to go missing, having failed to appear in public.

Perhaps not unusually for China’s rather anonymous political top-brass, Mr Xi is arguably less well-known than his wife of twenty years, Peng Liyuan (see her perform in the YouTube video above), the first-lady-in-waiting.

Ms Peng is a popular folk singer in China, known for her appearances on Chinese television’s annual New Year’s Gala. Perhaps less well-known is that she is a civilian member of the country’s army, holding the rank of major-general.

Li Keqiang (Reuters)

Li Keqiang

Slightly younger than his putative new boss, Mr Li is widely considered to be a protégé of the outgoing premier, Hu Jintao who he is tipped to replace.

A law graduate with a PhD in economics, he is considered by some to lack the charisma of his predecessor, Wen Jiabo. It is thought that the policy areas which he will be focusing on include, more affordable housing, clean energy technology and increasing employment, areas not unfamiliar to his contemporaries in Europe and the US.

He has been described by some who knew him some years ago as being easy to get along with.

However he has been linked to a number of disasters during his rise through the Communist party ranks. He was in charge in Henan when an Aids epidemic raged across the province thanks to a commercial blood-selling scheme whose legacy he inherited.

Although not in charge at the outset of the outbreak, he was accused by Aids campaigners of trying to cover up the situation.

Mr Li escaped responsibility for the scandal because, claim dissidents, he had already been selected as a future leader.