The grooming of Chen Min’er

Andrei Lungu | 22 October 2017

Until recently, Sun Zhengcai, the party secretary of the metropolis of Chongqing, “the Chicago on the Yangtze”, was seen as a possible successor to Xi Jinping. Then, in July, the Communist Party of China launched an investigation against him for corruption, leading to Sun’s dismissal from office and the precipitous end to his political career.

Throughout the Western press, the removal of Sun Zhengcai was treated as conclusive proof that Xi plans to remain in charge after 2022, when term limits and political tradition will require him to give up power. This has been a common trope in the hazy world of Chinese political analysis since at least 2015, when Foreign Policy published “Xi Jinping Forever,” arguing that the Chinese leader would try to extend his rule beyond two terms. A constant stream of articles, especially in the run-up to this week’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, has reinforced the consensus that Xi Jinping isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But Xi’s ambitions have been vastly misunderstood, and Sun’s dismissal is a critical case in point. Xi used Sun’s removal not to aggrandize himself, but rather to quietly designate, in violation of recent tradition, his own desired successor for 2022 — someone whom, for at least the past five years, Xi has managed to groom to carry forward his legacy without attracting too much attention.

Xi has more than half a dozen allies in positions of power throughout China’s provinces — like Li Qiang, the Mongolian Bayanqolu, or Li Xi — any one of whom could have been named as Sun’s successor in Chongqing. But Xi’s choice was striking: He promoted his ally Chen Min’er, who was born in 1960. Why is his year of birth so important? Because, based on the traditional retirement age of 68, Chen Min’er — unlike Xi’s other prominent allies, who are older — will be able to serve out a double term from 2022, when he will be 62. Were he born even just a year earlier, in 1959, this would have been impossible, as he would have been forced to retire in 2027.

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This article has been published by Andrei Lungu, President of RISAP, in Foreign Policy. You can read the full article in Foreign Policy.

Photo Credits: The Great Hall of the People at the 18th Party Congress, in 2012 (Flickr/Remko Tanis)

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Andrei Lungu​

Andrei Lungu is president of RISAP. His research interests include China’s foreign policy and its domestic politics, Sino-American relations and the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

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