HONG KONG – Chinese Deputy Premier Hu Chunhua was once overlooked for promotion by President Xi Jinping, but through deft maneuvering and intra-Communist Party alliance-building, the 57-year-old is fast emerging as the paramount leader’s most likely eventual successor.

His emergence comes at a time when many question if Xi’s eight-year rule as Communist Party General Secretary-cum-President is as unassailable as it seemed just six months ago, before the global pandemic hit China’s turbocharged economic growth, tensions with the United States hit a fever pitch and Yangtze River floods deluged several key southern provinces.  

By any measure, 2020 has stress-tested Xi’s rule as never before, to the extent that some observers and analysts have sharpened their focus on who might be next in line. Such succession speculation is rising as anti-Xi sentiment reportedly quietly simmers under the veneer of deference inside the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).