China appoints head of top political advisory body

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Associated Press

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 3:00 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 11 at 5:06 AM

BEIJING (AP) — China took another step toward completing its leadership handover Monday with the appointment of an official best known for his communist pedigree to head a top government advisory body.

Yu Zhengsheng was selected by a vote of 2,188 to 4 to head the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a companion body to the country's rubber-stamp legislature. There was no other candidate in the CPPCC vote.

Yu's selection is the latest step in China's once-a-decade political transition and kicks off a week of formal government leadership changes that were foreshadowed by promotions at the Communist Party's congress in November. In China, the party is the pre-eminent political power and top government posts are held by its leaders.

Yu was among seven leaders who ascended to the party's top inner circle at the November conclave which also anointed Xi Jinping as general secretary. Yu is ranked fourth in the party.

The governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, was named one of the vice chairmen of the advisory body, suggesting that he might be preparing to leave the central bank after 11 years at the helm.

This week, the largely ceremonial legislature known as the National People's Congress will finalize the transition and approve appointments to top government posts: Xi is certain to succeed Hu Jintao as president while Li Keqiang, the party's No. 2, is to be named premier, in charge of the Cabinet.

When fully installed into government posts, Xi's administration will confront domestic challenges that include public anger over official corruption that pervades all levels of society, and the degradation of the country's water, air and soil that has resulted from decades of rapid economic growth. A rising middle class, empowered by social networking technology, is increasingly vocal about its demands for change and willing to organize demonstrations to that effect.

Yu, 67, was Communist Party chief in the financial hub of Shanghai until shortly after his latest party promotion. He held the post of construction minister in the 1990s, when China suffered a series of building collapses that prompted the party to launch a campaign to improve construction safety.

A missile engineer by training, Yu is best known for his status as a "princeling" — the label assigned to the politically influential sons and daughters of leaders who struggled alongside Mao Zedong in the early years of the communist state. Yu's father was the ex-husband of a woman who later married Mao.

His family history has been problematic, however: His brother, an official in the Ministry of State Security, China's secret police, defected to the United States in the mid-1980s. Yu's connections to patriarch Deng Xiaoping's family are believed to have kept him in the running for promotion to the apex of power.

Yu now heads a 2,200-plus advisory body made up of carefully selected entrepreneurs, intellectuals, religious clerics and celebrities. The group has no real power but in recent years has become more important as representatives have used the platform to advocate for hot-button issues of public concern such as food safety, pollution and land seizures.

In one of the session's more interesting vote counts, scandal-tainted politician Ling Jihua, formerly a top aide of President Hu's, was among a few who received more than just a handful of opposing votes. Ninety ballots were cast against his appointment as one of the vice chairmen, though he got through anyway with more than 2,000 votes in his favor.

The votes against Ling could be a sign of damage to his reputation caused by reports of a lurid scandal involving his son, who apparently died after crashing in a speeding Ferrari while playing some kind of high-speed sex game a year ago in Beijing.

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