By Geoff Dyer, China bureau chief
Who will be in the White House in 2022? The UK prime minister? Or if the job still exists then, president of the European Union?
The answer is, of course, not a clue. But leadership changes in China are signaled a little further in advance. Indeed, Beijing has just fired the opening shot in the succession battle for 2022 with the promotion of two forty-somethings to be provincial party bosses.
Hu Chunhua, the 46 year-old governor of Hebei province, has been promoted to the top job in Inner Mongolia (provincial governors rank below party secretaries), while Sun Zhengcai, also 46 and a former agriculture minister, will take over in Jilin province in northern China.
The moves make them front-runners to be the ‘sixth-generation’ leaders when – according to precedent – power at the top of the Communist party hierarchy changes hands in 2022 (President Hu Jintao is the ‘fourth generation’ leader).
There is obviously plenty of politics to be played before then. Indeed, the next succession is still not completely sewn up. Vice president Xi Jinping is widely expected to take over from Hu Jintao in 2012, with Li Keqiang replacing Wen Jiabao as premier, however Xi has yet to win the promotion to the commission which runs the military, which would be the final act in his anointment.
But for the generation after him, the one who is getting the attention at the moment is the bespectacled Hu Chunhua. As well as sharing the same surname as the current president, he has spent time in Tibet and worked at the Communist Youth League, the party body that has been President Hu’s powerbase -indeed, he is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Hu’. Hu Jintao failed to have another Youth League alumnus named as his successor when Li Keqiang was overlooked. Is he now trying to put another protégé in place for 2022?
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