Hu Chunhua (right) has already been pencilled in by China long-term watchers as a likely successor to President Xi Jinping in 2022. So Hu’s appointment as Party boss in Guangdong is particularly noteworthy. It not only takes him from one end of the country to the other–his most recent post was as Party chief in Inner Mongolia–but it also sets him atop one of the highest profile provinces. This will let him broaden his experience and prove his abilities in a big province. Guangdong is China’s largest provincial economy, about the same size as Holland’s and four times the size of Inner Mongolia’s.
It will also test Hu on a bigger stage and under a harsher spotlight. Hu, who as a protege of outgoing President Hu Jintao is known as little Hu, earned his stripes running under-developed inland places with ethnic minorities considered tough to govern. Rich, coastal and relatively liberal Guangdong, with its large migrant population and manufacturing rather than resource-based economy (Hu has long connections with the coal industry), will present a new set of administrative challenges. Public expectations of his performance, set by his predecessor Wang Yang, who is moving on to an as yet unnamed job following his unsuccessful bid for a place in the Politburo, will also be very different. Hu will have to demonstrate not only his competence but also his ability to manage how that competence is perceived. He is not only being groomed. He is also being tested.