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May 29, 2017

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China may back rising star in Bo's Chongqing

BEIJING -- China is set to promote two rising stars and possible future national leaders at a Communist Party congress opening next week, one taking the old job of disgraced former high-flyer Bo Xilai in the country's biggest metropolis, sources said.

Southwestern Chongqing, left reeling in the wake of a corruption and murder scandal, is expected to go to Sun Zhengcai, a former agriculture minister and current party boss of the chilly northeastern province of Jilin.

The export powerhouse of Guangdong in the south, facing an economic slowdown due to the global downturn along with rising social tensions, will probably be handed to Inner Mongolia party boss Hu Chunhua, sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters.

China has in the past groomed potential future top leaders in posts as party boss — the most powerful position — of a series of provinces, where senior leaders can assess their performance in increasingly high-profile roles.

Leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping worked his way up from a fairly lowly position in the arid province of Hebei to the wealthier coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang and then eventually party boss of Shanghai.

"Hu Chunhua and Sun Zhengcai are very young and being groomed to become (the country's) sixth-generation leaders" after the governments headed by Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and president-designate Xi, one source told Reuters, requesting anonymity to prevent repercussions for discussing secretive elite politics.

Sun and Hu, both 49, are emblematic of younger officials of humbler backgrounds who stand apart from the refined, urban backgrounds of the likes of Xi and other so-called "princelings" — the descendants of former senior revolutionary leaders.

This new generation has shown a keener sense of the inequalities facing China, from environmental devastation to the rich-poor divide, factors that will shape the future.

Sun is an agricultural expert who once ran a fertilizer factory and spent much of his early professional life in a rural part of Beijing. He became agriculture minister in 2008.

While Hu Chunhua and Hunan party boss Zhou Qiang are also in the running to become Chongqing's party boss, the job is most likely to go to Sun, the sources said.

"Sun Zhengcai has arrived in Chongqing for a handover (of power)," a second source said. "If he does not get it due to last-minute changes, he could become vice premier in charge of agriculture."

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