For the past several decades, leaders connected with Tibet at one point or another in their career were given special importance in promotion to the two highest echelons of the Communist Party of China officially known as the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and the Politburo.
There are plenty of examples to substantiate this claim. Former president Hu Jintao is the best example.
Hu’s connection with Tibet dated back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was the party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region and later promoted to become the standing committee member of the Politburo and eventually succeeded Jiang Zemin to become the General Secretary of the Party.
Similarly, there are handful of existing Politburo members who have Tibet experience in their résumés.
Traditionally, in most cases, members of the PSC would come from the wider Politburo through the practise of horse-trading between the political factions commissioned by Party elders who remain influential behind the scenes in Chinese politics.
However, this wouldn’t be unprecedented to see someone at least from the Central Committee inducted into the PSC, literally skipping the interim Politburo. A case in point is the incumbent president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang, both of whom were parachuted into the PSC from the Central Committee in this fashion at the 17th Party Congress in 2007, as was former president Hu Jintao at the 14th Party Congress in 1992.
As reported by Reuters, if Xi indeed picks Chen Min’er from the Central Committee to be elevated directly to the PSC, the move could cement the speculation regarding Xi’s heir apparent since a successor in-waiting is usually groomed from younger generation. It would also minimize the chances of existing 12 Politburo members who are eligible for promotion at the coming congress.
Having said that, Chen’s entry into the PSC would likely share a widely believed notion that Hu Chunhua, Party Secretary of Guangdong and Sun Zhengcai, Party Secretary of Chongqing, are successors in-waiting to Xi and Li, from the sixth-generation of leaders.
Technically, Hu and Sun have a higher possibility of succeeding Xi and Li given the one-term crucial Politburo experience that Chen lacks. But Chen’s close-connection with Xi is something worth considering in determining his fate.
Chen, who will be 57 after the 19th Party Congress, is currently sitting as a full member in the 376-strong Central Committee and concurrently holds the position of Party Secretary of remote Guizhou province. Chen has already received two quick promotions under Xi’s blessing.
Their solid relations could be traced back to Zhejiang province as Chen was a subordinate of Xi when the latter was head of the coastal province.
During the 19th Party Congress scheduled to convene at the end of this year, 11 out of 25 Politburo members, including five from the PSC, could be replaced due to the long-practised unofficial age rule.
Considering the Tibet connection in promotion at the highest levels, Hu Chunhua and former Tibet boss Chen Quanguo are two most likely candidates on the list of promotion announcements awaiting the 19th Party Congress.
By this calculation, Hu Chunhua with his Tibet experience under Hu Jintao proved to be the most ideal candidate among the three sixth-generation leaders who appear to be vying to become successor in-waiting to Xi and Li.
Given stability is a priority under Xi’s administration, Chen Quanguo who at the end of last year transferred from the Tibet region to oversee Xinjiang Autonomous Region could top the 200-plus list of full Central Committee members expecting one-step promotion. The latest display of his hard-line approach in dealing with ethnic problems in Xinjiang puts him above all rivals.
In terms of loyalty, Chen has already demonstrated his allegiance to Xi during last year’s National People’s Congress through a very creative way. On top of that, the Party Secretary of Xinjiang usually holds a seat in the Politburo.
Yet, it remains to be seen whether the unwritten and unspoken practise of promotion connected with Tibet carries any weight in deciding top level posts under Xi’s leadership.
Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute, a research center of the Central Tibetan Administration