China appoints new top official for scandal-ridden Chongqing

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 19, 2012 10:00 PM
China appoints new top official for scandal-ridden Chongqing

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has confirmed that rising star Sun Zhengcai has been appointed Communist Party boss for the scandal-ridden southwestern city of Chongqing, taking the old job of disgraced Bo Xilai in the country's biggest metropolis.

As head of the sprawling Chongqing, Sun will have to deal with the legacy of Bo, the former high-flyer at the center of China's biggest political scandal in decades.

Sun's appointment was announced in a brief statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday. It also said that Shanghai mayor Han Zheng had been promoted to the city's party boss in a widely expected move.

Bo was fired in March following his wife's implication in the murder of a British businessman, and Chongqing had been run in the interim by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang. Zhang was promoted last week to the party's inner core of power, the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee.

Reuters reported earlier this month that Sun, 49, a former agriculture minister and then party boss of the northeastern province of Jilin, had been tipped to get the job.

Sun is emblematic of younger officials of humbler backgrounds who stand apart from the refined, urban backgrounds of the likes of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping and other so-called "princelings" - the descendants of former senior revolutionary leaders.

Sun is an agricultural expert who once ran a fertilizer factory and spent much of his early professional life in a rural part of Beijing. He served as agriculture minister from 2006-2009 after a surprisingly rapid promotion.

That set him up to take office in Jilin, the center of China's corn belt, where he has backed increased trade and infrastructure investment in North Korea.

Sun came to the attention of Premier Wen Jiabao when he was the party secretary of the Shunyi district of Beijing, a formerly agricultural and now rapidly industrializing area that is host to the capital city's airport.

The party has accused Bo of abuse of power, corruption and hampering the murder investigation because his wife was the suspect. She has since been jailed, though formal charges have yet to be filed against Bo.

Bo's expulsion from the party drew an outcry from his leftist supporters and highlighted the deep rifts his prosecution could inflame. Bo remains popular in Chongqing for his social programmes and city improvement efforts.

Another young official, Inner Mongolia party chief Hu Chunhua, had also been seen as a potential candidate to take over in Chongqing.

But sources with ties to the leadership say Hu is now expected to be moved to the export powerhouse of Guangdong in the south, facing an economic slowdown due to the global downturn along with rising social tensions.

Hu spent two decades in restive and remote Tibet, where he came under the wing of Hu Jintao, the outgoing president. In Inner Mongolia, Hu Chunhua has overseen rapid economic growth and dealt successfully with protests last year by ethnic Mongols.

The two Hus are not related despite sharing a family name.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Macfie)