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GUANGZHOU (Reuters) - China announced on Tuesday the appointment of rising star Hu Chunhua as Communist Party boss for the southern export powerhouse of Guangdong, the country's richest and most liberal province.
Hu will take over from reform-minded politician Wang Yang, who worked to reduce Guangdong's reliance on exports and grappled with rising social tensions among migrant workers and villagers fighting land grabs and graft.
The Guangdong Party Secretary post is one of the most prominent provincial leadership roles in China, and has served as a springboard for many politicians towards more senior national posts.
Hu's appointment was announced in a brief statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency. It said Wang Jun would replace Hu as party chief in Inner Mongolia. The article did not say where Wang Yang, seen by many in the West as a beacon of political reform, will be moved to.
Reuters reported last month that Hu, the former Inner Mongolia party chief, was tipped to take over as party chief in Guangdong.
Hu, 49, is part of the so-called "sixth generation" of potential national leaders born in the 1960s, after the generations headed by Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.
Hu Chunhua spent two decades in restive and remote Tibet, where he learned to speak Tibetan, rare for a Han Chinese official. While there, he came under the wing of Hu Jintao, the outgoing Chinese president.
The two Hus are not related despite sharing a family name.
In Inner Mongolia, Hu Chunhua, also known as "Little Hu", has been referred to as a future president. While there, Hu Chunhua oversaw rapid economic growth and dealt successfully with protests last year by ethnic Mongols.
Guangdong, however, poses a stiff challenge for Hu given its national prominence as a key economic engine, encompassing the "world's factory" of the Pearl River Delta, rapid social and industrial transformation, social unrest and corruption.
"It will be a very big jump for him," said a foreign diplomat in Guangzhou who noted the province's relatively assertive citizenry and closer scrutiny from media outlets in Hong Kong.
Hu Chunhua came to Inner Mongolia following a brief stint in Hebei, the arid province which surrounds Beijing, where he was rapidly moved after a scandal over tainted milk in which at least six children died and thousands became ill.
Hu Chunhua remains something of an enigma, even in China. He has given few clues about his deeper policy beliefs. One of the best known things about him is that he does not appear to dye his hair jet-black like many Chinese politicians.
In meetings with the public, Hu comes across as low-key and self effacing, in line with an image of a loyal, humble Communist Party member. People who have met him describe him as relaxed and easy-going.
Despite having a reputation as a moderate and a reformer, Hu Chunhua sent back to jail Inner Mongolia's most notable Mongol dissident, Hada, almost as soon as he completed a 15-year sentence for separatism in late 2010.
Reporting by James Pomfret in Guangzhou and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Editing by Ron Popeski