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    Greater China
     May 3, 2007
Wang Yang: A rising star in China
By Fong Tak-ho

HONG KONG - Wang Yang, 52, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary of Chongqing municipality, is known to be a favorite protege of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

He worked as a deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Youth League's Anhui provincial committee in the early 1980s. Under the current leadership, key government positions at both central and provincial levels are more likely to be filled by people

associated with the league.

Wang is now widely tipped to be elected into the new Politburo at the 17th Party Congress in autumn, and possibly even into the all- powerful standing committee of the Politburo.

Ahead of the congress, Wang is winning credit as an enlightened leader.

In China, urban redevelopment is a sensitive issue, often involving forced demolition of old housing and removal of residents. In many cities, such urban renovation projects lead to confrontation.

Chongqing faced such a case, in which a house owner held out against a redevelopment project for three years by refusing to move. However, the Chongqing government succeeded in resolving the so-called "coolest nail house" in history by striking an agreement that satisfied both the owner and the project developer.

The incident is said to have set a significant precedent for the enlightened enforcement of property laws. Apparently, the owner agreed to take a similar-sized home in another part of Chongqing. Although it had the option, the local government resisted the heavy-handed solution of simply bulldozing the offending house.

Chongqing's open mind in dealing with the media over the long-running saga has also won approval. Unlike many other cities that would have imposed a media blackout, Chongqing allowed unrestricted coverage of the incident. No doubt, credit must be given to Wang, the top leader in the Chongqing municipality.

And recently, the Chongqing government issued a circular calling for reform of the news media, which was subsequently hailed by the Studies Times (Xuexi Shibao), an official publication of the CCP's Central Party School. It commented that the move had aroused "great attention from all sectors of society".

Significantly, the president of the Central Party School is Vice President Zeng Qinghong, who will oversee the reshuffle for the 17th Party Congress. Clearly, this is another feather in Wang's cap.

The circular urges local official media organs to expand their coverage of the grassroots populace, and to prioritize reports according to the importance of news events rather than to the ranking of the officials concerned.

A decades-old practice in the official Chinese media, as demanded by the party's propaganda authorities, is to prioritize the activities of leaders. The higher-ranking a leader, the higher priority and bigger coverage he or she receives in news coverage.

For instance, the 7pm nationwide news broadcast by China Central Television starts with the public activities of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, starting with President Hu Jintao, followed by other news stories. Likewise, a regional news organ will prioritize reports about the activities of regional leaders.

In an effort to change this practice, the Chongqing circular outlines 40 detailed measures, 26 of which deal with watering down reports of political leaders' activities. It calls for more focus on news coverage of grassroots issues and in improving reportage of official meetings and official documents.

Since the circular took effect on January 1, an increasing number of news stories about agriculture, rural life and rural migrant workers have appeared on the front pages of newspapers in Chongqing.

The idea of such media reform was initiated by the central government in 2003, when Wang was a deputy secretary general of the State Council. On March 28, 2003, Hu convened a Politburo meeting that resulted in the release of a circular titled "Opinions about Improving Reportage of Official Meetings and Political Leaders' Activities (Opinions)".

This stated that it was not essential to cover every move of central leaders when they attended ministerial-level meetings, and that the presence of such leaders should not be used as the only yardstick for the coverage of political meetings of lesser significance.

Chongqing's circular is, therefore, the implementation of the "Opinions", and "it is our hope to find more and more regional governments jumping on the bandwagon", the Studies Times noted.

Chongqing's circular did not attract national attention until last month when it was lauded by the Studies Times. This could be linked to Beijing's consideration of candidates for the new Politburo, and a way of floating Wang's name.

Paving the way for the Politburo
Unconfirmed reports have it that the number of members of the Politburo will be slightly more than the current 24, in preparation for a new central leadership at the 18th Party Congress in 2010.

Among incumbent Politburo Standing Committee members, Luo Gan, in his late 60s, is believed to be considered too old to stay, while Huang Ju suffers from poor health. Luo oversees law and order, while Huang is an executive vice premier. Former CCP Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu has already been ousted from the Politburo for suspected corruption.

This means there are at least three or four vacancies and Wang, currently an alternative member of the CCP Central Committee, is tipped as most likely to fill one of them.

During his recent visit to Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in western China, Hu set three new criteria for promoting officials at the Congress. He said priority should be given to "those who have spent a long time working under harsh conditions in underdeveloped areas. Those who have been steadfast in their works instead of in pursuit of false reputation and those who have immersed themselves in hard work to lay a foundation for long-term development."

Hu and Wen come from Gansu province, one of China's most underdeveloped areas, and Hu's remarks could indicate that leaders in remote regions meeting the new criteria could be promoted at the congress.

Fong Tak-ho is managing editor of the Chinese edition of Asia Times Online.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Beijing spring: Democracy is in the air (Apr 18, '07)

Grooming China's future leaders (Apr 4, '07)

China's 'fifth generation' leaders come of age (Mar 29, '07)

'The coolest nail house in history' (Mar 31, '07)


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