(SCMP) The new Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, is strongly tipped to join the party’s Politburo next year as a result of his strong ties with Premier Li Keqiang and five years of hardline rule in his previous post in Tibet, which won him the trust of party general secretary Xi Jinping.
Chen, 60, is well placed in the race for promotion to the decision-making Politburo because age has become a key criteria for political advancement and retirement.
Since 2002, the so-called “seven up and eight down” rule has allowed cadres who are 67 or younger at the time of a party congress to remain in or enter the Politburo, while those aged 68 or older have been pushed into retirement.
If the rule still holds and the number of Politburo seats remains at 25, 11 elderly Politburo members will have to step down at the party’s 19th national congress, which is scheduled to be held in autumn next year.
Chen, long viewed as a close ally of Li, will be a front runner for one of the vacancies thanks to his work experience and tough stance in dealing with religious and ethnic issues in Tibet.
He worked closely with Li for six years in Henan province, beginning with his appointment as Li’s deputy when Li was made acting governor of the central province in 1998. Then, in 2000, Chen was made a member of the party’s provincial standing committee.
In 2003, a year after Li was promoted to Henan party secretary, Chen became his deputy in the party’s provincial committee.
After serving as deputy party chief of Henan for 6½ years, Chen was promoted to acting governor of the neighbouring province of Hebei in late 2009, when he was 54. Then, in 2011, after 18 months as Hebei’s acting governor and governor, he was named party head of Tibet.
In his first meeting with senior cadres in the autonomous region, Chen promised the authorities would bar the “Dalai clique” from intervening in the selection of the next Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader. Buddhists in Tibet believe that each Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessor.
Beijing views the current Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, India, after fleeing Tibet in 1959, as a separatist, and Chen told the cadres the battle against his clique would be long-lasting and intense.
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