Who will be China's next top diplomat?
Imminent exit of incumbent Dai only serves to intensify guessing game
BEIJING - The guessing game over China's next top diplomat has intensified, now that the exit of incumbent Dai Bingguo is confirmed.
The 71-year-old veteran's exclusion from the Communist Party's new leadership this month signals his imminent retirement as State Councillor in charge of foreign affairs in March when the new Cabinet is formed.
The post is described as China's top-ranked diplomat, owing to the concurrent role as head of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) foreign affairs office.
It is ranked higher than that of the foreign minister, whose job is more of implementing than shaping foreign policy.
Mr Yang Jiechi, 62
Now foreign minister, the Shanghai native with a PhD in history is the hot favourite to become China's new top diplomat.
There have been two instances of serving foreign ministers being promoted to the senior position in the Cabinet.
But one uncertainty is whether the former envoy to the United States is indeed in poor health as widely speculated.
Mr Wang Yi, 59
The Taiwan Affairs Office director's strength is his knowledge of China's key Asian neighbours.
A Beijing native and an alumnus of the China Foreign Affairs University, Mr Wang was vice-foreign minister overseeing Asia from 2001 to 2004 before serving as ambassador to Japan till 2007.
He is married to the daughter of a secretary to China's former premier and first foreign minister Zhou Enlai.
Mr Wang Huning, 57
The Communist Party's chief researcher is viewed as a dark horse - if talk is true that China wants to give more weight to its diplomacy, in light of its troubled relations with neighbours over territorial disputes and increasing competition with the US.
The former Fudan University law school dean and Shandong local is the only contender who is in the elite Politburo while the others are Central Committee members.
KOR KIAN BENG