SHANGHAI, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday made his chief of staff, Ding Xuexiang, one of the most powerful men in China, in a move party watchers say underscores the importance Xi puts on trust and loyalty.
Ding, 60, has no experience governing a provincial level economy but could nonetheless be on track to become ranking vice-premier, whose job would include helping a new premier manage the world's second largest economy.
Prior to his ascension to the Politburo Standing Committee on Sunday, the two highlights of Ding's political career were when Xi picked him to be his private secretary and gatekeeper, first in 2007 when both men were working in Shanghai, then from 2013 onwards after Xi became President.
"What really stands out about Ding Xuexiang is that he has probably spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other official over the past five years," said Neil Thomas, a senior analyst for China and Northeast Asia at the Eurasia Group.
"Ding is effectively Xi's chief-of-staff and is almost always by his side. It is clear that Xi has trusted Ding's loyalty and ability," he said.
Born in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Ding studied mechanical engineering and began his career at the Shanghai Research Institute of Materials, where he rose during a 17-year-tenure from researcher to director and deputy party secretary.
He later moved through roles in the Shanghai party committee, where his political star rose after becoming top aide to Xi when the future leader moved to the Chinese commercial capital in 2007 and spent eight months as party secretary.
Other Xi acolytes from his Shanghai stint that were later promoted included Vice Premier Han Zheng and Xu Lin, who heads the National Radio and Television Administration.
In 2013, after Xi became president, Ding moved to Beijing as Xi's personal secretary as well as deputy director of the 200-member party Central Committee's powerful General Office, which manages the administrative affairs of the top leadership.
He eventually succeeded the General Office's then-head, Li Zhanshu, who is currently China's top legislator and at 72 is expected to retire from the Standing Committee.
While little has been written about Ding's time in Shanghai, an article he authored in 2008 for a magazine published by the General Office made clear the importance he places in administrative work, which he described as crucial to a country's success or failure.
"Ding's experience suggests that he is a talented administrator with political savvy and an appreciation for technocratic expertise. It is possible that Ding has influenced Xi to promote more technocrats to leadership positions at the ministerial and vice-ministerial level," Thomas said.
Given the opacity of Chinese politics and Ding's roll as a background player, there is even less known about him than other members of the new Standing Committee.
"Ding is a political aide who operates behind the scenes, so there is not much public information about his personal impact, contributing to the wall of secrecy that surrounds Xi's top advisers," said Thomas.
In speeches this year Ding repeatedly urged party cadres to demonstrate loyalty and unity as well as rectify problems to ensure the smooth execution of the Party Congress.
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