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Princelings to come of age at China Communist Party conclave

BEIJING -- Chen Yun, the nemesis of China’s late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, reportedly once said that the land under heaven should be handed to “princelings” who could be trusted not to dig the Communist Party’s grave.

Monday’s one-day closed-door meeting of the Party’s new Central Committee will be the coming-out-party of princelings — the privileged children of the country’s political elite.

A record number is tipped to join the decision-making Politburo, sources with ties to the leadership said.

“Their souls in heaven will be at ease,” political commentator Liang Kezhi said, referring to late Party elders who wanted power to be passed on to their heirs.

President Hu Jintao needs to accommodate princelings to maintain a delicate balance of power with other interest groups, including Hu’s own Communist Youth League faction, the military, Party elders and provincial leaders.

But the rise of princelings would “reinforce public perceptions of the convergence of power and wealth in the country”, Cheng Li, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington D.C., wrote on China Brief.

“The presence of a large contingent of princelings in the next Politburo would be seen as a great irony, thus significantly undermining Hu’s populist claims,” Li wrote.

Many princelings were unpopular and dealt setbacks by delegates to previous five-yearly Party Congresses, but their collective image has improved in recent years. Many are well educated and have come of age after moving up through the Party, government or military ranks in the past two decades.

“Some ... have changed their previously poor public images by demonstrating their leadership skills,” Li wrote.

Princelings share a goal of preserving their privileges and perpetuating one-Party rule. But as a political faction, they are a loosely knitted group and many do not get along.

A Chinese political scientist likened princelings to owners of a company who are more concerned about its performance whereas President Hu is more preoccupied with staying in power.

“Princelings are more confident and have a greater sense of responsibility. No one will question their loyalty,” said the political scientist who requested anonymity.

Princelings whose political stars are rising include:

* Shanghai party boss Xi Jinping, 54, tipped to join the top echelon of power, the nine-seat Politburo Standing Committee. He is a son of late reformist Xi Zhongxun, architect of China’s special economic zones, which kickstarted the country’s opening up and reform and enjoyed preferential tax breaks.

* Flamboyant Commerce Minister Bo Xilai, 58, designated to become Party boss of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing after a vice premiership eluded him. His late father, vice premier Bo Yibo, was instrumental in his rise.

* Liu Yandong, 61, minister of the party’s United Front Work Department which is responsible for winning over non-Communists, and the only woman in the new Politburo. Her father is former vice minister of agriculture Liu Ruilong.

* Li Yuanchao, 56, Party boss of the eastern province of Jiangsu, an ally of President Hu and assured of a Politburo seat. His father, Li Gancheng, is a former Shanghai vice mayor.

* Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan, 59, who steered the capital through the 2003 SARS outbreak and the southern province of Guangdong through a financial crisis. He is a son-in-law of late vice premier Yao Yilin and a candidate to join the Politburo.

* Ma Kai, 61, the conservative top economic planner, tipped to become Cabinet secretary-general next March. His father, Fang Zhengzhi, was a one time senior official of the labour ministry.

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