Vice-president steps down in China reshuffle

CHINA’S vice-president stepped down yesterday in a reshuffling of the Communist Party leadership, removing from office a rival to President Hu Jintao.

Closing a week-long party congress, delegates selected a new Central Committee, a body that approves leadership positions and sets broad policy goals, with Vice-President Zeng Qinghong not among those selected, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Mr Zeng’s absence means he cannot be in the Politburo or its Standing Committee, the grouping that runs China, whose members the Central Committee will approve today.

Aside from Mr Zeng, Xinhua said two other Standing Committee members also stepped aside — Wu Guanzheng, who has run the party’s internal corruption watchdog, and Luo Gan, who oversees law enforcement.

No reason was given but all three were either over or near the party’s preferred retirement age.

Their departure, especially that of Mr Zeng, appears to be a boost for the president, who was reappointed to the Central Committee and is all but certain to be given a second five-year term as party leader.

Yet it also raises questions about what deals President Hu and his allies had to strike to win the vice-president’s retirement.

At stake for President Hu is the chance to pack leading party bodies with allies, including a potential successor, thereby giving himself a freer hand to shape policies.

Of all leadership members, none other than Mr Zeng have rivalled President Hu in terms of influence.

A skilled political insider, he rose to power as an aide to Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, helping him shove aside rivals.

Though Mr Zeng also helped President Hu engineer the removal of rivals, he was seen as a leading protector of Mr Jiang’s legacy within the party.

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