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Chinese politician seen as reformer leaves post

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DIDI TANG | December 18, 2012 08:55 AM EST | AP

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BEIJING — A prominent Chinese politician seen as a leading reformer has left his post as Communist Party secretary in a major southern province, the party announced Tuesday, part of the first major shakeup after new party leaders took over last month.

Wang Yang was replaced as party secretary of Guangdong, which rivals Shanghai as China's most prosperous region, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a party announcement.

Xinhua gave no indication of Wang's next job, but China watchers said he is likely to be named a vice premier when China's legislature meets in the spring.

Wang, 57, is seen as a politically liberal figure. He failed to win a seat on the party's ruling seven-member Standing Committee when new leaders were installed last month but was named to the lower-ranking Politburo.

His departure as provincial party secretary comes amid a reshuffling of senior jobs as the party leadership under the new general secretary, Xi Jinping, settles into power.

On Tuesday, the party also announced via Xinhua that it had named new party bosses for Zhejiang, Jilin and Shaanxi provinces, and for the region of Inner Mongolia.

Wang was seen at Xi's side when the general secretary visited Guangdong in early December. Li Cheng, an expert on China's elite politics at Washington-based think tank Brookings Institute, said the appearance of the two together was to show the solidarity of the party leadership, because Wang is not considered to be in Xi's camp in China's factional politics.

"It's a symbol of unity," Li said.

University of Chicago political scientist Dali Yang said Yang is likely to be named a vice premier when China's legislature meets in the spring. He said the fact Wang escorted Xi on his trip was a sign Xi would lean on Wang in furthering economic reforms.

In the first public statement of their economic plans, Xi and other leaders pledged on Sunday to promote reforms aimed at reducing reliance on exports and nurturing self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumer spending.

Wang was known for giving civic groups and private business a bigger role in Guangdong, the center for China's export-driven manufacturing and a base for technology and finance industries.

"Guangdong is the vanguard of the reform," Yang said. "Anyone who goes to Guangdong is always affected by some of the openness of the area."

Last year, Wang presided over a compromise with protesters in a fishing village, Wukan, who accused local leaders of selling farmland without paying compensation.

In contrast to other protests that end in arrests, the Guangdong government agreed to hold an election last March in which two protest leaders were selected as village leaders.

The unusual outcome encouraged liberals who saw an ally in Wang, but more conservative party figures saw the compromise as a dangerous precedent for other areas, possibly hurting his political advancement.

Wang was considered a rival of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, who was removed this year as party secretary of Chongqing, a major city in the southwest. Wang was Chongqing's party secretary before Bo.

Named to succeed Wang in Guangdong was Hu Chunhua, a rising star seen as a leading member of the next generation of party figures who might succeed the newly installed leadership.

Hu, 49, was party secretary in northern China's Inner Mongolia region. He is an ally of outgoing President Hu Jintao, to whom he is not related.

Li said Hu is expected to gain experience in Guangdong, possibly in preparation for becoming a future leader of China.

"Basically it gives him an opportunity in Guangzhou, which, just like Chongqing, is very, very important," Li said. "It is for young leaders to gain experience and position them well for future promotions."