Wang Zhengwei, head of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), was recently concurrently appointed deputy head of the Central United Front Department. His appointment tell us three things about Chinese politics.
First, this is another sign that the status o the Central United Front Department of the CCP Central Committee is being upgraded. Before Sun Chunlan’s appointment as its head in December 2014, leaders of this department had seldom been members of either the Politburo (with the exception of Ulanhu) or the Secretariat (with the exception of Yan Mingfu). With the appointment of Wang Zhengwei as Sun’s deputy, the Central United Front Department now enjoys a bit higher status than both the Central Organization Department and the Central Propaganda Department.
In addition to Sun Chunlan, a Politburo member, and Wang Zhengwei, a vice chairman of the CPPCC, one may also find Du Qinglin, former head of the Central United Front Department, in the Secretariat. Like Wang Zhengwei, Du is also a vice chairman of the CPPCC, but at the number one vice chairman, he outranks Wang. Du’s job is also related to the work of the Central United Front.
Second, this is a sign that the Party is centralizing its power. Subordinating relevant ministries of the State Council to relevant departments of the Central Committee has been a tradition since the 1990s. Each minister of culture since Liu Zhongde (who held the post from March 1993 to March 1998), for instance, has mostly served concurrently as deputy directors of the Central Propaganda Department. Ministers of personnel or human resources and social security since Song Defu (March 1993 to December 2000) have mostly served concurrently as deputy directors of the Central Organization Department. Yin Weimin, current minister of human resources and social security, is also a deputy director of the Central Organization Department.
Third, this is also a sign that Wang Zhengwei is being groomed to be a successor to both Sun Chunlan and Du Qinglin in two years. Born in 1950, Sun is a good candidate to become the first female member of the Politburo Standing Committee at the 19th National Party Congress in 2017. It is not likely that Sun Chunlan’s power will be undermined with Wang Zhengwei as a deputy director of the Central United Front Department. Instead, it seems Sun’s power has been extended to ethnic affairs for the moment.
Du, meanwhile, will have to retire in two years at the age of 70 or 71. Born in 1957, Wang is likely to enter both the Politburo and the Secretariat as the head of the Central United Front.
If Wang could make it to the Politburo and the Secretariat at the forthcoming 19th National Party Congress, he will be the most powerful head of the Department since 1948.