China party shuffle begins ahead of leadership change

BEIJING Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:26am EDT

China's President Hu Jintao (R) waits for the start of the first session of the G20 Summit in Los Cabos June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

China's President Hu Jintao (R) waits for the start of the first session of the G20 Summit in Los Cabos June 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Edgard Garrido

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A political ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao is the front-runner to become the Communist Party boss of Beijing, two independent sources said, allowing Hu to retain some political influence after he leaves office.

It will be the first major step in a reshuffle ahead of a generational leadership change. Hu must retire from running the party later this year and from the presidency in early 2013.

Guo Jinlong, 64, the capital's mayor since 2008 and a Hu ally, is tipped to replace Liu Qi, 69, as Beijing party boss at the municipal party congress that opened on Friday, the sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters, requesting anonymity because of the political sensitivity of leadership changes.

The city's party boss outranks the mayor.

If confirmed, Guo would be a shoo-in to join the party's decision-making Politburo during the leadership change at the 18th national party congress later this year, the sources said.

It was unclear when the Beijing congress would end and the announcement of the appointment made. The Beijing city government declined immediate comment.

Hu has not made public his plans for retirement but, unlike in the West where former presidents and prime ministers tend to fade from the public eye, Chinese leaders seek to maintain influence to avoid possible adverse political repercussions down the road.

Another candidate to succeed Liu, who is a protege of Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, is Inner Mongolia's party boss Hu Chunhua, who is also close to President Hu, the sources said. The two Hus are not related.

President Hu, 69, is widely expected to hand the top job in the party to Vice President Xi Jinping during the national congress and will start promoting other allies to key posts before retiring.

"It would be a modest victory for (President) Hu, giving his men control of Beijing and another seat in the Politburo," one source said.

Guo was party boss of President Hu's ancestral province of Anhui in central China from 2004 to 2007.

Guo was considered a moderate when he served as deputy party boss of Tibet from 1993 to 2000 and as party boss from 2000 to 2004. Hu was party boss of the Himalayan region from 1988 to 1992.

"They did not overlap in Tibet, but they are close," a second source said.

Guo, a native of Nanjing, capital of the coastal province of Jiangsu in east China, graduated from Nanjing University majoring in physics and joined the party in 1979.

Hu Chunhua has an even stronger Tibet connection.

Barely out of university in 1983, he joined the Communist Youth League and went to Tibet, where he ended up working for two decades, including as a deputy manager at a Lhasa hotel.

The Politburo currently has 24 members after Bo Xilai - former party boss in Chongqing and a leadership contender - had his party membership suspended in April in a scandal that attracted worldwide attention.

Bo's lieutenant - Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun - briefly sought refuge at the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu in February and implicated Bo's wife in the murder of British businessman and Bo family friend Neil Heywood over a financial dispute.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Nick Macfie)

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