HONG KONG—Chinese vice president Xi Jinping's appointment to the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) has paved the way for him to take over from Hu Jintao when he steps down, analysts said.
Xi was appointed vice chairman of the CMC, a key post in China's ruling Communist Party, at the fifth plenary session of the 17th Central Committee, which took place in Beijing over the weekend.
Xi is already a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest policy-making body.
"Xi Jinping is a pretty safe bet," said U.S.-based scholar and former Beijing Normal University professor Song Yanjun. "He has a very harmonious leadership style, very low-key. He's no self-publicist."
"Nonetheless, a person like that can still carry a lot of weight within the Communist Party."
Song said Xi comes from a powerful political family in China, with strong interpersonal skills. "Also, from what we can tell, he hasn't done anything obviously bad."
Xi, 57, served in the People's Liberation Army in a number of locations, as well as having seen active service, official media reported.
He has a chemical engineering degree from Beijing’s prestigious Qinghua University, and a PhD in law. He is married to 47-year-old general and pop singer Peng Liyuan.
A former secretary at the general office of the CMC from 1979 to 1982, Xi gained his first high-level political appointment in 1999, when he became acting governor of Fujian province while overseeing national defense mobilization plans in the province, which is just across the strait from rival Taiwan.
Analysts said Xi's latest appointment would likely consolidate his existing support within the armed forces, still a key factor in Chinese politics.
"It's certain that this is to enable him to have a period of experience at the top echelons of leadership at the CMC ahead of the 18th Party Congress," said U.S.-based author and political analyst Gao Xin.
"It shows something of the inner system for China's leadership ... The succession for the posts of president, premier, and CMC chairman won't happen all at the same time," Gao said.
The move confirmed expectations among political analysts that Xi would take over from Hu as president, while premier Wen Jiabao is likely to be replaced by Li Keqiang.
"There hasn't been much change to this theme since they fixed on it, for example, because one of them made a mistake, or because their health was failing," Gao added.
President Hu is expected to step down as head of the Communist Party in 2012 and as president in 2013.
Seven of the current nine members of the Politburo standing committee, the Party's ruling inner circle, are due to retire before the new leadership era will begin, leaving Xi and Li widely seen as leaders-in-waiting.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.