Lin Shangli, a former deputy principal of the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, was recently promoted to Secretary-general of the Central Policy Research Office, according to a July 6 notice by the General Office of the State Council of China.
Lin, a former student of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s top adviser Wang Huning, seems set to play a prominent role in Xi’s new administration after the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress at the end of the year.
Wang Huning is the director of the Central Policy Research Office and a member of the Politburo. Wang served as top political theoretician to two former Communist Party secretary-generals—Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao—and reprises the role of “Zhongnanhai’s chief strategist” under Xi. To draw an imperfect analogy, what Wang Huning is to Xi Jinping is somewhat similar to what White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is to President Donald Trump.
Wang is widely tipped for a seat in the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision making body in the Chinese regime, at the 19th Congress.
The Central Policy Research Office is responsible for top-level analysis work and policy formulation. The Research Office, or “Zhongnanhai’s Think-tank,” also issues important documents, legislation, reports, and theoretical work.
New Research Office secretary-general Lin Shangli served as Fudan University’s vice-principal in April 2011. In March 2013, Lin concurrently held a professorship at Tongji University. On May 24, 2016, an official notice indicated that Lin was stepping down as a standing committee member at Fudan University’s school committee; the official notice didn’t indicate if he was taking up a new post.
But Lin’s recent promotion and his serving on a new 27-member State Council committee that oversees educational material suggest that he is in fact being considered a valuable asset by the Xi Jinping administration.
China Decoding believes that Lin’s recent rise to prominence is due to him being the former student of Research Office director Wang Huning when they were both at Fudan University.
In the 1980s, Wang was a Fudan political science and international politics lecturer, and later international politics department head and law school dean. Meanwhile, Lin was doing his undergraduate and doctoral studies in Fudan’s political science and international politics faculty.
After graduation, Lin served on Fudan’s school committee. He later became director of the international politics department, as well as associate dean of Fudan’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs.
Going by their CVs, Lin and Wang almost certainly have a student-teacher relationship, and are also former colleagues. Thus, there is a distinct possibility that Wang was behind Lin’s promotion.
Wang himself appears to be one of Xi Jinping’s most important confidants. For instance, Wang is usually seen by Xi’s side during diplomatic trips. Chinese state-run media often feature photos of Xi with Wang on his right and General Office head Li Zhanshu on his left—a telling sign that Xi considers Wang and Li to be his closest administrators.
China Decoding has observed that Wang is helping Xi set the political direction for the post-19th Congress China—many of Wang’s political views appear to be paving the way for Xis new policies.
If Wang Huning makes the Politburo Standing Committee at the 19th Congress, he will likely be put in charge of ideological and propaganda work.
There isn’t much information available about the Central Policy Research Office. The Research Office’s top management includes one director, three deputy directors, and one secretary.
The Research Office personnel has been reshuffled multiple times since Xi Jinping took office in 2012.
In 2013, Research Office executive deputy director He Yiting was transferred to the Central Party School to serve as executive vice-principal.
In 2014, Propaganda Department deputy minister Wang Xiaohui was appointed as a deputy director of the Research Office. This year, Wang was promoted to executive deputy director.
In June 2016, Research Office deputy director Jiang Jinquan was made team leader of a Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) team stationed in the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the world’s largest controlling company that oversees over a trillion dollars in assets.
In March 2017, Zhang Wei, the Research Office’s office manager, was promoted to Research Office deputy director.
In June 2017, Pan Shengzhou, the deputy director of the Central Reform Office and deputy director of the Central Political Affairs Department, was transferred to head the CCDI inspection team inside the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
In the final analysis, it seems very likely that Xi Jinping had preemptively promoted Lin Shangli to ensure that the Chinese regime’s think-tank continues to be headed by those he can trust after the 19th Congress. Should Wang Huning move up to the Politburo Standing Committee, he would leave vacant the position of Research Office director—and also the ideal successor.
Don Tse is a China expert with China Decoding, an analysis and research company.