Photo/IllutrationChinese President Xi Jinping leaves a political conference in Beijing with close ally Wang Qishan on his heels. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

BEIJING--Chinese President Xi Jinping moved a step closer to consolidating his grip on total power by gaining Communist Party backing to elevate his close ally Wang Qishan to the post of vice president.

Several sources close to the Communist Party leadership said that Wang's promotion was now a foregone conclusion in light of discussions that began Feb. 26 on personnel moves in the government at the third plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee.

The constitutional revision proposal released Feb. 25 removes limits that bar the president and vice president from serving more than two consecutive five-year terms.

Wang, 69, was at the forefront of the 64-year-old Xi's campaign against corruption, but stepped down as a Politburo Standing Committee member last autumn.

Initially, that step was seen as marking Wang's retirement from politics, but he made a comeback in late January by being chosen as a representative to the National People's Congress from Hunan province.

To step down as a powerful Politburo Standing Committee member but still retain political influence as a NPC representative is almost unheard of.

Wang would also be unlike past vice presidents who were chosen for what was considered a largely ceremonial role, sources said.

There was speculation that Wang will be asked to spearhead Xi's quest to rid the government and military of corruption, given that he once served as the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection to root out graft.

Another sector where Wang might play a role is in relations with the United States. Wang reportedly met informally with Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China, earlier this year.

In 2008, as the world was reeling from the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, Wang worked closely with Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, on fiscal measures to deal with the crisis.

At the time, Wang was a vice premier in charge of commerce and finance. He still has many contacts in U.S. political and business circles.

Having Wang return as vice president would in effect do away with the informal party regulations that have set 68 as the official retirement age for top officials.

But a party source said, "Accepted practice and precedent will no longer apply because we have already entered what Xi has called a 'new age.'"