At Foreign Policy, Damien Ma considers a possible upset to Li Keqiang’s succession to the position of Premier next year, as a rival candidate emerges.
That contender is Vice Premier Wang Qishan, a face most familiar to those in Washington as the leading figure on the Chinese side of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Back home, Wang is known as a competent manager with a wealth of experience in the financial sector, having served in the central bank and headed the China Construction Bank. He has also earned a reputation as something of a “crisis defuser” — both dealing with the SARS outbreak as Beijing mayor and playing an important role in shaping China’s response to the economic crisis. Wang’s engagement with top US officials also earns him credibility as something of a statesman. As for his aspirations, one wonders what lay behind his decision to give an extended interview to the US media, a rarity for top Chinese officials (see: Wen Jiabao and Fareed Zakaria). Was he advertising his capabilities to Beijing by holding court with Tim Geithner on a serious show like Charlie Rose?
On the flip side, did the heir apparent fall from grace? Not exactly. Li arguably still has the best shot of becoming premier, given that he’s President Hu Jintao’s close ally and protégé. But questions are surfacing about his managerial capabilities and experience, given the challenging economic transition that Beijing hopes to engineer. Such doubts are not entirely Li’s fault. He was dealt some of the toughest portfolios in the Politburo — namely, food safety and social housing. But it will be up to Li to prove his opponents (who argue that his achievements are few) wrong.