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China VP promoted in move seen as leadership sign

- Associated Press - Monday, October 18, 2010

BEIJING | Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was promoted Monday to a key post in the Communist Party's military commission, affirming his path to be the country's leader within three years.

The son of a party veteran, Mr. Xi (pronounced "she") has employed success in earlier jobs, along with family and political connections, to become the party's sixth-ranking leader. He has been viewed as the anointed successor to President Hu Jintao, who is expected to step down as party chief in 2012 and as president the next year.

Analysts see the 57-year-old Mr. Xi as a consensus choice at a time when Premier Wen Jiabao has been calling for unspecified changes to China's one-party system and other leaders have harshly denounced any moves to adopt Western-style democratic institutions.

In addition to promoting Mr. Xi, the ruling party's governing Central Committee also pledged to make "vigorous yet steady" efforts to promote political restructuring, the official Xinhua News Agency and state broadcaster CCTV reported. It cited a document issued at Monday's close of the committee's annual four-day meeting.

No specifics were given, although party leaders routinely call for administrative refinements to shore up one-party rule.

Xinhua gave few details about Mr. Xi's long-expected appointment to the Central Military Commission that oversees the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army.

Mr. Xi's appointment to the party's military commission and an identical one on the government side have been viewed as necessary steps in preparing Mr. Xi for the top office.

"Barring anything unexpected, Xi will be taking over as party leader," said Ni Lexiong, a professor at Shanghai's University of Political Science and Law.

The 11-member commission already has two vice chairmen and is chaired by Mr. Hu, who also was its only civilian member for the past five years, enabling him to consolidate his influence over the military at the expense of political rivals.

The reports indicated the commission was being expanded to 12 members rather than Mr. Xi replacing one of the current vice chairmen.

Without a transparent electoral process, the party uses such appointments to show that the succession is going ahead smoothly and predictably.

Although the precedent is thin, Mr. Hu was made a vice chairman of the military commission three years before taking over, and Mr. Xi's failure to receive the position last year sparked speculation that the succession process had stalled.

In addition to affirming Mr. Xi's path to the top, his appointment strengthens the party's absolute control over the military in a repudiation of calls for the People's Liberation Army to become a national army under government, not party, leadership.

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