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October 20, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1660

Xi Jinping's Politburo – Part 4: Wang Yang

October 20, 2022 | By Chris King*
China | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1660

This is the fourth installment in a series of reports about the individuals comprising the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 19th Central Committee, which was elected in 2017 at the 19th National People's Congress. These men, the most powerful people in China, are Chinese President Xi Jinping's closest advisors.

This installment in the series is about Wang Yang (汪洋). Wang, currently Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, is considered the fifth most powerful individual in China. A skilled politician, he has served Xi Jinping faithfully, even though he has the credentials of a reformist. He is almost universally well-liked among China's political elite.

For the previous reports in this series, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1653 about intellectual Wang Huning, MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1656 about Li Zhanshu, and MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1658 about Li Keqiang.

Biography

Wang Yang, born March 5, 1955, is from Suzhou, in China's Anhui Province. In his late teens, he was secretary of the Communist Youth League branch of a food factory where he worked, and when he was 20 he married Zhu Mali, the daughter of a senior official in Suxian Prefecture of Anhui Province.

Following the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Wang taught at the May 7th Cadre School of Suxian Prefecture, later serving as Deputy Director of the Teaching and Research Office and as a member of the school's party committee. In March 1979, he was selected to study political economics at the Theoretical Propaganda Cadre Class of the Central School of the CCP, after which he returned to teaching.

Rising through the ranks of the Communist Youth League, in 1983 he became the Deputy Secretary of the Communist Youth League in the Anhui Province. After leaving the League, Wang served as the Deputy Director of the Anhui Sports Committee, becoming the committee's director in 1987.

In 1988, during the period of Deng Xiaoping's reforms, he became mayor of the city of Tongling, in Anhui province. During his tenure, he drew the attention and won the favor of Deng Xiaoping when, after the Tiananmen Square events in 1989 that resulted in the freezing of Deng's reform agenda, he published an article in Tongling Daily calling for continued economic reforms and ideological openness in a fashion consistent with Deng's agenda. In 1992, during a tour in the region, Deng specially summoned Wang and praised him for urging reforms to such an extent, dubbing him the "baby mayor" because of his youth.

In 1993, at the age of 38, Wang Yang was appointed Vice-Governor of the Anhui Provincial People's Government, becoming the youngest vice-governor in China at the time. At the same time, he began serving as a member of the Party's Standing Committee of the Anhui Provincial Committee. In 1999, he was transferred to China's State Council and served as the Deputy Director of the State Development Planning Commission.

A decade later, in March 2003, after Wen Jiabao became Premier of the State Council, Wang was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the State Council in Wen Jiabao's cabinet, responsible for the daily work of the General Office of the State Council. On December 24, 2005, he succeeded Huang Zhendong as Secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, and served until November 30, 2007.

At the 17th National People's Congress, on October 22, 2007, Wang, now 52, was elected as a member of the CCP Central Committee's Politburo, joining the ranks of China's senior-most political elite. He was re-elected in 2012 at the 18th National People's Congress, and in March 2013 was nominated by Vice Premier Li Keqiang to be Vice Premier of the State Council, in charge of agriculture, water resources, flood control and drought relief, poverty alleviation and development, business, and tourism. His term as Vice Premier ended in 2018.

Subsequently, in 2017, at the 19th National People's Congress, he was elected to be a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee, becoming one of the seven most powerful individuals in China.

Wang Yang's Relationship With Xi Jinping

Wang Yang is well-liked by China's political elite, even those from opposing factions. He has strong reformist credentials from his time in the Communist Youth League, and because of the support he received from Deng Xiaoping for speaking up in favor of his economic and political reforms. At the same time, he has faithfully served Xi Jinping, consistently echoed his ideologies, boldly expressed support for him at key opportunities, and taken effective advantage of his reformist credentials to help Xi achieve political balance among the various factions in China. Wang has gained Xi's trust and has provided him with what he needs politically. It is noteworthy that Wang and Xi have comparable seniority in the CCP, and Wang's seniority is important capital among China's elite, particularly when it comes to Wang's usefulness to Xi.

Wang's status as a universally popular figure in Chinese politics, even under Xi Jinping's hardline rule, shows that he is a skilled veteran politician capable of adapting in changing political winds. It also indicates that he is more statesman than ideologue – his critics have called him a political chameleon and claim he has betrayed Deng Xiaoping's reformist legacy.

The Future Of Wang's Career

As noted in previous installments in this series, Xi Jinping likely views the upcoming Standing Committee as transitional in nature, as he continues to fully consolidate political power in China, after which he would be able to easily fill the Party's senior positions with his loyalists.

Due to his loyalty and usefulness to Xi, his general popularity, and his young age, it is highly likely that Wang will remain on the Politburo's Standing Committee.

In addition, it is important to note that Wang Yang is a top contender to replace Li Keqiang as the next Premier of China's State Council, nominally China's second-highest ranking position. This is particularly true since it is very common for individuals who had previous served as Vice Premiere (as Wang did 2013-2018) to become Premier. The other top contender is Hu Chunhua, but he has the disadvantages of being eight years younger than Wang and of having openly belonged to the informal anti-Xi Jinping Communist Youth League faction ("Tuanpai").

* Chris King is Senior Research Fellow for the MEMRI Chinese Media Studies Project. King was an active participant in the student protests in China in 1989.

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