China names new Tianjin party chief amid corruption probe

Li Hongzhong, Hubei's provincial party secretary, who has been appointed as Tianjin's party chief. Photo: Dustin Shum

China has appointed Hubei provincial party secretary Li Hongzhong as Tianjin's new party chief to replace Huang Xingguo, who is under a corruption probe.

Li, 60, is now seen as a strong contender to become a member of the Communist Party's Politburo in the upcoming power reshuffle, which is expected at the party's national congress, due to be held in autumn next year.

Most party chiefs of Tianjin have been given a seat on the powerful Politburo since the mid 1980s.

His appointment came after it was reported last Saturday that Huang, Tianjin's mayor and acting party boss, was being investigated for "serious disciplinary violations", a euphemism for corruption.

The official Xinhua News Agency yesterday said that Huang would no longer hold his Tianjin posts and would be "handled according to relevant laws and regulations".

The Shandong native previously spent 19 years in southern Guangdong province. He was the mayor of Shenzhen from 2003 to 2005, and then its party boss from 2005 to 2007. He became the governor of Hubei province in 2007 and then provincial party boss in 2010.

"The previous party chiefs of Tianjin have typically been elevated, so it should not be an exception in this case," Peking University political analyst Zhang Jian told The Straits Times.

"Li's promotion shows that he is someone trusted by President Xi Jinping," he added.

Li has previously made several gestures to publicly show his allegiance to President Xi.

He was among the first few regional party bosses who publicly pushed forward the formal naming of President Xi as the "core" of the party early this year.

But Beijing-based political analyst Zhang Lifan said that Li was still young compared with his rivals for further promotions.

"Li has a good chance of landing a Politburo membership next year according to his latest appointment," said he, adding: "But uncertainty is out there, especially when there is still a year to go before the party congress."

Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam noted that Li has been characterized as a rising star "for quite some time" and is seen as one of the more competent and brighter leaders among his peers.

"Xi is looking for (younger) rising stars born in the 1960s to form the next generation of leadership. Li will most likely serve just one term," he added.

¬Li also grabbed the headlines in 2010, when he was governor of Hubei province, at that year's annual meeting of the National People's Congress, when he criticized a state media reporter and seized her digital recorder when she asked him to comment on an issue involving the rape of a young woman by local officials in Badong county, which was under Li's control.

Li, a former secretary to Li Tieying, a former member of the Politburo, refused to make any public apology over his controversial actions, despite repeated demands by hundreds of journalists and editors from China and abroad.

Six out of seven party chiefs in Tianjin secured membership to the party's Politburo sooner or later over the past three decades ahead of Li's appointment.

Boost in graft fight

Li Tuo, a professor of political studies at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said Li brings the expectation that anti-graft efforts in Tianjin will move forward after several senior officials there have been investigated for corruption.

"Li has previously built a reputation for his anti-graft efforts. It is an indicator that the top leadership has placed enough trust and responsibility on him to push forward clean governance," he said.

Last month, Yin Hailin, deputy mayor of Tianjin, was placed under investigation for alleged severe disciplinary violations. Wu Changshun, the municipality's former senior political adviser and former police chief, was put under graft investigation in July 2014.

"It requires strong leadership to clean up the problems left behind by those officials who are now under investigation," said Fu Siming, a professor of administrative law at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

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