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Could Li Yuanchao be China's next VP?
Publication Date : 27-12-2012
Li Yuanchao's dream of becoming Vice-President was dashed after the former organisation chief of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was left out of its elite Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).
But speculation is again rife that Li, 62, might still become the next Veep when new government positions are unveiled next March.
Should this scenario materialise, it would make Li the first non-PSC member to hold the post since 1993, when top banker Rong Yiren was Vice-President to then-President Jiang Zemin.
Speculation has mounted after a cameo appearance by Li last week. When new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping met visiting Hong Kong leader Leung Chun Ying in Beijing, Li was spotted among the Chinese leaders.
That could suggest that Li may have oversight of former British colonies Hong Kong and Macau, a portfolio usually given to the Vice-President. Xi was in charge of the two special administrative regions until he became Communist Party chief last month.
The post of Vice-President would be a consolation prize for Li, said Hong Kong-based observer Willy Lam, after he missed out on getting into the PSC.
He and former Guangdong party chief Wang Yang were the two most famous candidates passed over for promotion.
Li had been a strong contender to succeed Xi as Vice- President in the run-up to the leadership change.
While others who failed to get promoted, like Wang and State Councillor Liu Yandong, were quickly linked to vice-premier posts, Li's future became unclear.
At one point, there was even talk that he would be made deputy chairman of China's rubber- stamp Parliament.
But that would have been a severe demotion for Li, who in his previous role as the party's personnel czar had a big say over the promotion and demotion of the party's more than 80 million members.
The dapper-looking leader is a protege of outgoing President Hu Jintao and was earmarked as one of his potential successors before Xi emerged as the crown prince in 2007.
If Li does get the VP job, it would be a recognition of his abilities.
Dr Bo Zhiyue, from Singapore's East Asian Institute, said: "Since Li is known to be quite capable, the party may want to give him the important task of overseeing Hong Kong and Macau."
As the Vice-President will be involved in China's foreign policy, Li's experience dealing with foreign countries would come in handy.
He has led exchanges with public officials of other countries, including Singapore, in his role as organisation chief.
And if Li can prove himself, observers say, his second bid for a PSC seat in 2017 would most likely succeed.
Said Dr Bo: "If he can demonstrate himself to be a capable leader in these portfolios, he will have another shot at the PSC."
He added that if Li becomes Vice-President, it will mark a change in the duties traditionally associated with the post.
Previous V-Ps such as Hu and Zeng Qinghong and the outgoing Vice-President, Xi, have held other posts - they were Central Party School president and executive secretary of the Communist Party's secretariat, or nerve centre.
Liu Yunshan, who is ranked fifth in the PSC, has already succeeded Xi at the party's secretariat and is widely expected to head the school, the top learning institution for party cadres.
Is it possible for China to have two Veeps in Li and Liu?
According to Dr Bo, it is not impossible since China's Constitution is not clear on the number of vice-presidents the country can have.
"But there is usually only one Vice-President, and it is likely to stay this way," he added.