China Unveils Likely Successors to Top Posts

China's ruling Communist Party unveiled on Monday a new leadership line-up including two men likely to eventually succeed President Hu Jintao and government head Premier Wen Jiabao.

Xi Jinping, who has been chief of Shanghai, and Li Keqiang, who has headed the northeast province of Liaoning, were promoted to the new nine-member Politburo Standing Committee -- the innermost ring of power.

While Xi, 54, and Li, 52, have not been openly designated to replace Hu and Wen five years hence, their relative youth and status leave little doubt they are favored to eventually assume the apex of power.

Their promotions mark Hu's growing grip on power, but their emergence will also test the Party's power to engineer an untroubled succession in an era when no one leader commands absolute loyalty.

"There must be a politically resolute, staunchly unified and energetic and promising collective central leadership," the People's Daily -- official voice of the Party -- urged on Monday.

The nine men in dark suits emerged after a closely controlled vote by the Party's 204-member Central Committee, installed at the end of its five-yearly Congress on Sunday.

Xi filed into the Great Hall of the People directly ahead of Li, but there was no clear indication of which man was favored for which government job.

Hu Jintao.jpg

Hu stays as Party boss -- as well as President and head of the Central Military Commission -- for five more years, while Wen will continuing managing the government and its ministries.

The Standing Committee retained parliament chief Wu Bangguo and two leaders installed under the previous Party chief, Jiang Zemin -- Li Changchun, who has been propaganda boss, and Jia Qinglin, head of the advisory council attached to the parliament.

The line-up also includes He Guoqiang, set to take control of Party organization and fighting corruption, and Zhou Yongkang, whose background in policing puts him in line to replace Luo Gan, the previous domestic security boss.

It was already known that three members of the outgoing Standing Committee would step down.

Among them was Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, a powerful figure installed by Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin. There was a fourth vacancy after the death of vice-premier Huang Ju in June.

Most analysts have said the expected mixture of promotions -- some close to Hu, others not so -- reflects Hu's bid to balance regions and interests and also limits on his power to dictate outcomes.

Li Keqiang worked under Hu in the Communist Youth League before postings in Henan, a poor and unruly rural province in central China, and Liaoning, a rustbelt province striving to attract investment and emerge as a modern manufacturing hub.

Before taking over as party boss of Shanghai earlier this year, Xi Jinping steered two of the country's fastest-growing provinces, Fujian and Zhejiang. His father was a senior reformist official.

But the retention of Jia was a reminder the new leadership was not Hu's to pick and choose at will.

Jia has long been dogged by claims he let corruption run rampant in coastal Fujian province in the 1990s.

At 67, Jia is young enough to escape an informal retirement rule forcing out leaders born before 1940 -- a demand that apparently claimed Zeng.