Wang Qishan, one of China’s most competent leaders and a close confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping is primed to make a political return to a key role in the Chinese leadership.

It’s okay if you don’t recall who he is.

During Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to China last September, PM Lee met up with Wang, who was then one of the seven top leaders from the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

Wang, 69, is the Chinese leader who seldom meet with foreign guests but made an exception to meet upon PM Lee’s request.

PM Lee will meet Wang Qishan, key ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing

The meeting was only announced after PM Lee landed in Beijing, surprising many observers.

You can watch this video to learn more about Wang.

Political comeback

Influential Chinese financial magazine Caixin reported on Jan 29 that Wang who retired from the top leadership last October after reaching the age of retirement based on unwritten party rules, had been chosen as a delegate to the annual meeting of parliament or National People’s Congress (NPC).

He has been appointed a delegate from the southern province of Hunan, according to a notice on the official Hunan Daily’s WeChat account that lists all the province’s parliamentary delegates.

Possible new powerful role?

A South China Morning Post (SCMP) report in Dec 2017 revealed that Wang continues to play an important role after his retirement and is expected to be named Vice-President at the NPC annual meeting in March.

The signs of his continuing influence include:

  • He has been given the rare privilege of attending meetings of the party’s supreme Politburo Standing Committee as a non-voting member.
  • He is still believed to work at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in central Beijing.

Given the latest development, various media reports cited sources confirming the likely appointment of Wang as Vice-President.

  • “Before the announcement, four people, citing conversations with senior Chinese officials and speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The New York Times that Mr. Wang had a strong chance of being appointed vice president.” (New York Times)
  • “According to officials familiar with the leadership’s thinking…[Wang] is being considered by Mr. Xi for several roles, including as state vice president.” (Wall Street Journal)

There is no well-defined job scope for Vice President, which is mostly a ceremonial role.

The Diplomat, online international news magazine, noted that there is no age cap for either the president or the vice president, merely a minimum age requirement of 45.

Article 82 of the Constitution reads:

The Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China assists the President in his work.

The Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China may exercise such functions and powers of the President as the President may entrust to him.

In other words, Wang’s portfolio would very much be defined by what Xi wants him to do and he is expected to play a significant role in foreign affairs, particularly with the United States.

An old friend of Singapore

Wang is an old friend of Singapore.

He had co-chaired The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) — the top body for furthering bilateral ties from 2008 to 2012. In fact, he is still the longest serving co-chair since the platform was inaugurated in 2004.

PM Lee and Wang had a good time reminiscing about old times and his connection to Singapore when they met in Beijing.

In the event that Wang takes on a foreign affairs portfolio after his widely-expected appointment in Mar, it could augur well for China-Singapore relations given his familiarity with Singapore.

Our leaders will have more opportunities to engage with Wang, who keeps a low public profile but is often described as China’s second most powerful leader.

Top photo from MCI

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