China Vice Premier Huang Ju Dies

June 1, 2007 Updated: June 1, 2007

BEIJING—Chinese Vice Premier Huang Ju, a protege of former leader Jiang Zemin, died early on Saturday after a long illness, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua did not specify his illness, but Huang was known to have had cancer.

His death months before the 17th Communist Party Congress, a five-yearly meeting that makes key personnel changes, could intensify jockeying between political factions associated with Jiang and those loyal to his successor, President Hu Jintao.

Huang, 68, had been ranked sixth on the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, the all-powerful group of nine that rules China, with responsibility for the key economic and financial portfolios.

But his death is unlikely to impact economic policy, with another vice premier, Wu Yi, having already taken over his roles. The Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets were closed on Saturday.

An obituary issued by the central government called Huang a “long-tested and faithful Communist fighter and an outstanding leader of the Party and the state”.

An engineer by training, Huang emerged from Jiang's Shanghai powerbase, becoming mayor of the financial capital in 1991 and Party boss there in 1994.

Analysts say that the way in which Huang's replacement is handled—or whether he is replaced at all before the Party Congress—could be a barometer of Hu's strength and Jiang's residual influence.

But some said that after more than a year of serious illness, any impact on high-level jockeying from Huang's passing would have long since been taken into account.

“It's like the stock markets—everything was factored in long ago,” said David Zweig, a Chinese politics specialist at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Shanghai Legacy

The Congress is likely to identify a younger generation of leaders to take the helm after Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao retire in the next decade. Analysts are watching to see if the pair have the strength to appoint those likely to carry on their policies.

Huang's greatest legacy was in Shanghai, the powerhouse he led in the 1990s, where he presided over the building of the glittering financial district of Pudong and helped the city mushroom into a major banking centre and the world's busiest port.

But as Hu consolidated power over the past four years, the tax breaks and easy land approvals that helped Shanghai's rise ended as he and Wen shifted China's focus from coastal cities to the development of the poor and neglected hinterland.

The power of the “Shanghai Gang”, as those who owed their rise to Jiang were known, was dealt another blow last year when the city's party boss, Chen Liangyu—who had openly criticised Hu and Wen's policies aimed at cooling the roaring economy—was sacked for corruption.

A native of the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, Huang was educated at Beijing's elite Tsinghua University, and spent more than four decades as a Party member.

He was promoted in 2002 to the Politburo Standing Committee.

His death comes two days before June 4, anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.