China's Politburo has more women, is younger - but barely

BEIJING Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:04am EST

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BEIJING Nov 15 (Reuters) - China's seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, a group whose reformist credentials are few and far between, was in the spotlight on Thursday as it paraded before the world to cap a secretive Communist leadership transition.

But the 18 other people who make up the Politburo - including two who have exhibited relative openness to political experimentation and two who were born in the 1960s - will be in on all major policy decisions for the next five years.

The line-up also includes two women for the first time since the height of the Cultural Revolution in 1969, when the wives of Chairman Mao Zedong and then vice chairman Lin Biao were on it.

Sun Chunlan, 62, who sources said is a front-runner to become party boss of the northern port city of Tianjin, joined Liu Yandong as the second woman on the Politburo. Liu is tipped to become a vice premier.

The 25-member Politburo is a mix of military and civilian leaders from a range of provinces and regions.

Wang Yang, Guangdong party boss, and Li Yuanchao, party organisation head, were among Politburo members whose standing committee hopes were stymied, though they remain contenders for spots at the next party congress in five years.

Among China's most reform-minded senior politicians, their exclusion from the innermost ring of power is seen by critics as a blow to the party's capacity to reform itself as it contends with corruption, social unrest and environmental degradation.

"People will want to ask: what happened to Li Yuanchao? What happened to Wang Yang?" said Cheng Li, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, who warned that the conservative line-up of standing committee members could face an "overwhelming" political bottleneck.

While the average age of the new standing committee increased to 63.4 years from 62.1 five years ago, the Politburo was a shade younger at 61.16 compared with 61.44 five years ago.

Pulling the Politburo's average age down are two next generation leaders - Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, according to the line-up. Both are 49, and are part of a cohort of leaders expected to reach the pinnacle of power a decade from now.

This new generation has shown a keener sense of the factors that will shape China's future, from environmental devastation to the rich-poor divide.

Sun is tipped to become party boss of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing and Hu is likely to take over as party boss of the southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong, sources have said.

Beijing party boss Guo Jinlong was promoted to the Politburo, Xinhua said. Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng also made it, a sign he will be party boss of the country's financial capital.

Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu also joined the Politburo and will oversee domestic security. That portfolio was downgraded from the standing committee after fears Meng's predecessor had become too powerful and in the wake of the dramatic downfall of one-time high-flyer Bo Xilai.

Liu Qibao also made the cut, and is now a shoo-in to become the party's propaganda minister, who oversees media and the Internet.

Generals Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang, newly appointed vice chairmen of the decision-making Central Military Commission, are military representatives in the Politburo.

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