BEIJING – Delegates reviewed candidates Thursday for Communist Party committees that will determine China's leadership and influence policy-making for the next five years.
For the first time since the party congress began Monday, President Hu Jintao and other top party leaders were not shown on state television's main evening national news. That appeared to be an indication that discussions were continuing over personnel decisions to be decided at the weeklong conclave, which is due to end Sunday.
Intense speculation continued over new appointments, with focus turning to economic portfolios that have gained added weight due to the galloping economy, and to trade tensions with the United States and other partners.
Officials have mostly ignored media questions about their future, with China Construction Bank chairman Guo Shuqing shrugging off a question as to whether he was up for appointment as China's next central bank chief.
"Rumor. Unfounded," Guo said on Wednesday before calling on the next reporter at a news conference.
On Wednesday, senior leaders approved an initial list of members recommended for selection to the party's Central Committee, which usually has about 400 full and alternate members.
The names, number of seats available, and even the voting method have not been made public.
Over the remaining four or five days of the congress, held every five years, delegates will winnow the candidate list down in a primary election, followed by a final vote that likely will be carefully scripted by the leadership.
Immediately afterward, the new Central Committee will meet to select a Politburo, which currently has 24 members. The Politburo will then choose its Standing Committee, the pinnacle of Chinese political power.
With at least two Standing Committee members retiring because of age and one slot vacant due to a death, deciding the new leadership lineup is the most important task before the congress. The committee's size varies, but it was expanded to nine at the last congress in 2002.
Speculation about the top candidates has been furious among political watchers and officials up and down the party and civil service whose careers often depend on personal ties.
President Hu Jintao's spot as party leader is not under threat, but he is believed to face challenges in promoting allies, including a potential successor for when he steps down, perhaps in five years.
A protege, Li Keqiang, the 52-year-old party head of the industrial province of Liaoning, has encountered resistance from other party leaders who fear giving Hu too much sway.
Other government positions may also be decided, reportedly to include new defense and public security ministers.
While the economy's chief minder, Premier Wen Jiabao, is expected to keep his post, a raft of top economic portfolios are up for grabs. At least two vice premierships, which have in the past overseen financial and industrial reforms, are open, and the central bank governor is likely due for a transfer.
Party officials say the number of final candidates for the Central Committee will outnumber seats, offering the 2,200-plus delegates a modicum of choice in determining the future lineup for running the country.
State news agency Xinhua said the list of delegates was prepared by a special working group under the current Politburo.
Uncertainty remains over how many candidates will fail to make it onto the committee. Five years ago, 5 percent were eliminated. Officials have not said what the margin would be this year, but there has been speculation it might rise to as much as 10 percent.