By Brenda Goh
SHANGHAI, Oct 23 (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday appointed his chief of staff, Ding Xuexiang, as one of China’s most powerful men, in a move party watchers say underlines the importance that Xi bestows on trust and loyalty.
Ding, 60, has no experience running an economy at the provincial level, but could be on his way to becoming a deputy prime minister, whose job would include helping a new prime minister run the world’s second-largest economy.
Before his promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee on Sunday, the two highlights of Ding’s political career were when Xi chose him to be his private secretary and guardian, first in 2007 when they were both working in Shanghai, then starting in 2013. when Xi became President.
“What really stands out about Ding Xuexiang is that he has probably spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other official in the last five years,” said Neil Thomas, senior China and Northeast Asia analyst at Eurasia Group.
“Ding is effectively Xi’s chief of staff and is almost always by his side. It is clear that Xi has relied on Ding’s loyalty and ability,” he said.
Born in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Ding studied mechanical engineering and began his career at the Shanghai Materials Research Institute, where he rose over a 17-year tenure from researcher to party director and deputy secretary.
He later held posts on the Shanghai party committee, where his political star rose after becoming Xi’s top adviser when the future leader moved to the Chinese commercial capital in 2007 and spent eight months as party secretary.
Other Xi acolytes from his time in Shanghai who were later promoted included Vice Premier Han Zheng and Xu Lin, who heads the National Radio and Television Administration.
In 2013, after Xi became president, Ding moved to Beijing as Xi’s personal secretary and deputy director of the party’s powerful 200-member Central Committee General Office, which handles administrative affairs for top management.
He eventually succeeded then-General Office chief Li Zhanshu, who is now China’s top lawmaker and is expected to retire from the Standing Committee at age 72.
While little has been written about Ding’s time in Shanghai, an article he wrote in 2008 for a magazine published by the General Office made clear the importance he places on administrative work, which he described as crucial to success or failure. from a country.
“Ding’s experience suggests that he is a talented administrator with political savvy and an appreciation for technocratic expertise. Ding may have influenced Xi to promote more technocrats to leadership positions at the ministerial and deputy ministerial levels,” Thomas said.
Given the opacity of Chinese politics and Ding’s role as a supporting actor, even less is known about him than about other members of the new Standing Committee.
“Ding is a behind-the-scenes political aide, so there is not much public information about his personal impact, which contributes to the wall of secrecy surrounding Xi’s top advisers,” Thomas said.
In speeches this year, Ding repeatedly urged Party cadres to show loyalty and unity, as well as rectify problems to ensure the smooth running of the Party Congress. (Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Shanghai Newsroom Edited by Lincoln Feast)