Last week Sun Zhengcai, 49, was named as the secretary general of Chongqing Province, the same position that Bo Xilai held before being purged from the CCP.
Sun is part of a small group of young rising stars in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that many believe are being prepared as China's 6th generation leaders who are expected to take power from Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang in 2022. Sun became one of the fifteen new Politburo members at the 18th Party Congress.
Sun obtained a doctorate in agriculture from Beijing Agriculture University in 1987 and spent a year in the British countryside as a visiting fellow at Britain’s Rothamsted Experimental Station.
After working in lower level positions for a number of years, Sun was assigned to the Shunyi District in Beijing and later went on to serve as deputy secretary and secretary general of the Beijing municipal committee of the CCP.
Then, in December 2006 when Sun was just 43 years old, he was chosen to serve as the Minister of Agriculture, making him the youngest person holding a ministerial level position at the time. Notably, Sun’s time as agriculture minister overlapped with Bo Xilai’s own time as minister of commerce. Indeed, in May 2007 Bo and Sun sent a jointly written letter to the World Trade Organization that advocated giving developing countries greater leeway on agricultural tariffs while forcing developed nations to decrease their own. Sun also addressed the UN’s Conference on World Food Security the following year.
Domestically, Sun’s time as agriculture minister was characterized by the promotion of the “three rural issues” (promoting agricultural and rural economic development, and increasing farmer income) which had become a trademark of the Hu-Wen administration. According to Sun himself, farmers continued to see a more than 6% increase in their per capita annual income growth during his time in office. At the same time, he publically acknowledged that the rural-urban income gap was continuing to widen.
After three years as agriculture minister, Sun was made general secretary of Jilin Province in 2009, a Northwestern province of 27 million people that borders on North Korea. Sun was the youngest provincial chief at the time. He has served in this position until his most recent appointment and was made a member of the CPC Central Committee at the 17th Party Congress in 2007 and a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC) in June 2010.
Under his stewardship Jilin Province has continued its steady growth rate of the previous decade plus, with some estimating a 13% annual growth rate during Sun’s time there. Last year Jilin’s provincial GDP topped $1 trillion yuan for the first time, ultimately reaching $1.05 trillion yuan (US$168.5 billion) by year’s end. According to figures released by the Chinese government, residents of Jilin saw their disposable income rise 15.5% in 2011 with those in rural areas seeing a 20% increase.
While Jilin’s economy continues to be heavily weighted towards agriculture, particularly grains, it has also developed a sizeable chemical industry over the last decade.
In Jilin Province Sun appears to have developed close ties with North Korean officials, both visiting that country and hosting North Korean officials during their trips to China. Among the DPRK officials he hosted was Kim Jong-Il, who visited Jilin in August 2010, May 2011, and August 2011. Sun often greeted Kim on his arrival at the train station and held receptions in his honor.
More recently, Sun hosted Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle, Jang Song Taek, while the latter was in China this past August in an effort to repair strained relations between Pyongyang and Beijing. Jang was in Jilin for two days during this trip and later Sun was present when Jang met with both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing.
Sun has also traveled to North Korea on a number of occasions including June 2010 when Sun was part of a CCP delegation that held a “strategic forum” with a Korean Workers’ Party delegation led by Choe Thae Bok [Choe t'ae-bok], the Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly and Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP], who Sun has hosted in Jilin. Sun returned to Pyongyang in October of that year as part of a delegation Hu Jintao had sent to personally deliver a note from him to Kim Jong-Il congratulating him on the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party.
More recently Sun has begun establishing links to South Korea, with South Korean companies agreeing in June to pursue joint investments in Jilin Province worth $3.9 billion. 48 South Korean businesses were involved in the deal, which is expected to focus on projects in a number of industries including agriculture, construction, energy, distribution, and tourism. Last year Jilian also signed 9 economic agreements worth U.S. $9.5 billion with Indonesia.
Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat. He can be found on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.