The mayor of the major south western Chinese city of Chongqing has stepped down, the government said on Friday, paving the way for a promotion to a more senior position, possibly alongside Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing. Sources told Reuters earlier this year that mayor Huang Qifan was tipped to replace Yang Jing as secretary-general of the State Council, or cabinet, making him Li’s right-hand man to help tackle a stalling economy.
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The cabinet secretary-general helps the premier oversee the entire spectrum of portfolios, from the economy to finance, industry, agriculture, energy, the environment, state planning and technology. The Chongqing government said in a brief statement it had approved Huang’s request to step down, without giving other details or saying where he might go next.
It named deputy mayor Zhang Guoqing as Chongqing’s acting mayor. Huang is widely respected as an expert on financial and economic affairs, appearing frequently as a commentator in domestic media. He is also a political survivor, weathering a scandal in 2012 which clipped the wings of his high-flying and flamboyant boss, Bo Xilai, then Chongqing party secretary and a member of the party’s decision-making Politburo.
Bo was sentenced to life in prison in 2013 for corruption and abuse of power. In China, the downfall of a senior politician can often spell the same fate for his closest allies. Chongqing’s current party boss, who outranks the mayor, is Sun Zhengcai, a man tipped for top national leadership.