China faces to watch: Zhang Dejiang

China is gearing up to change its top leaders, a process that begins at the end of the year. This week, the annual parliamentary session will give those in the running the chance to show off their credentials. The BBC's Michael Bristow profiles key figures.

If seniority counts in the Chinese leadership, Zhang Dejiang stands a good chance of promotion.

He has been in the Communist Party's politburo for a decade and could well be promoted to the body's standing committee later this year.

While many new leaders have dealt extensively with the West, Mr Zhang is an expert on a country that is perhaps China's oldest ally - North Korea.

He was born in Liaoning, a province that borders the North, and studied Korean at university.

He even spent two years at the Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.

Zhang Dejiang, vice premier Mr Zhang studied at the Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang and is an expert on North Korea

The 65-year-old has visited North Korea on many occasions, travelling to visit Kim Jong-il in November last year, just before Mr Kim's death.

Mr Zhang is currently one of China's vice-premiers, but he has also had experience in the provinces. He was party secretary in Guangdong between 2002 and 2007.

It is sometimes hard to distinguish unique characteristics of China's national leaders in Beijing, as decisions here tend to be made by a group rather than by any one individual.

But provincial leaders often have more scope to express their personal policies and preferences.

Unfortunately, Mr Zhang's term of office in Guangdong was not free from controversy.

When a deadly form of pneumonia - severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) - broke out in the province in 2002, the government was slow to respond.

As party boss, Mr Zhang was heavily criticised.

His tough stance towards protestors and journalists did not go down well with the public either.

But at a time when the maintenance of stability is a high priority in China, those qualities might not be seen as a disadvantage to promotion.

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