The Financial Times' Kathrin Hille checks in from Beidaihe, the seaside resort town where the Chinese Communist Party's elites have gathered to hash out the details of the country's upcoming leadership transition:
President Hu Jintao and other top leaders arrived in the resort on Friday, according to three people familiar with the meeting. At the 18th party congress later this year, the party will unveil the slate of leaders who will run China for the next decade.
One person familiar with the leadership succession said the party would probably cut the size of the politburo standing committee – the top decision-making body – from nine to seven seats.
“The line-up will see mostly members who have ample experience, and for fresh faces you will have to wait until the 19th party congress,” said another person.
The South China Morning post reported on Monday that Hu is driving the efforts to reduce the size of the Politburo Standing Committee from nine to seven members, chiefly as a way to better facilitate a leadership consensus on difficult issues:
If the smaller size is adopted at the meeting, that would also make it easier to speculate on the composition of the standing committee. (Determining the seven strongest candidates has long been a favourite pastime of anyone interested in mainland politics.)
While everyone has their own favourites, the following six invariably top lists: Xi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang are the safest bets, as they are already Politburo Standing Committee members and appear certain to take over from Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao . The other four almost certain candidates are Li Yuanchao , the head of the Organisation Department; Yu Zhengsheng , the party secretary of Shanghai; Zhang Dejiang , the party secretary of Chongqing, and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan .
It is interesting to note that Wang topped an informal poll for the membership of the standing committee because of his popularity and his deep knowledge of economic affairs. The poll, containing a list of candidates, was reportedly conducted among several hundred high-ranking mainland officials several weeks ago.