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New breed of leader emerging in China

Opening Session of annual National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People; a younger breed of politician is slowly emerging  

By Willy Wo-lap Lam
Senior China Analyst

(CNN) -- While all eyes are on forthcoming leadership changes in Beijing, an equally significant reshuffle is taking place in the provinces and major cities.

In the past year, half of China's 31 provinces and centrally administered cities have witnessed a changing of the guard.

The shifts are significant because most of the new party bosses, governors and mayors will be inducted into the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) ruling Central Committee to be endorsed at the pivotal 16th congress this autumn.

In the current Politburo, four out of 21 members hail from the localities. Yet the proportion of regionally-based Politburo affiliates is expected to be increased at the 16th congress.

What then, are the traits and orientation of the regional stalwarts?

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Firstly, the new leaders are younger. Only 21 of the 62 provincial or municipal chieftains are over 60 years old, as opposed to 26 a year ago.

Moreover, three of them -- the governors of Fujian, Henan, and Qinghai, respectively Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Zhao Leji -- are under 50.

And Zhao, 44, is perhaps the first among the so-called Fifth Generation -- a reference to officials in their late 30s to late 40s -- to have made it to a top provincial job.


Equally important is that the regional supremos are better educated -- as well as having had ample exposure to the West.

More than 90 percent have bachelor's degrees or above. And most governors and mayors have either taken trips to the U.S. and Europe -- or undertaken short-term courses there.

For example, the new mayor of Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, 56, spent nine months at Britain's Birmingham University in 1992.

And an increasing number of cadres at the level of vice-governor and vice-mayor are holders of post-graduate degrees from American and other foreign universities.

Despite the modernization in the cadre system, however, three problems fundamental to the political system have not been solved.

A high proportion of the recent appointments are still based on the time-honored principle of factional balance. Asia
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Thus, the two biggest CCP cliques -- the Shanghai or Jiang Zemin Faction under President Jiang and the Communist Youth League (CYL) Faction under Vice-President Hu Jintao -- have done particularly well.

The Head of the party's Organization Department, Zeng Qinghong, a Jiang protégé and former vice-party boss of Shanghai, has played a key role in the reshuffles.

Under Zeng's influence, cadres close to the Shanghai or Jiang Faction have been appointed or re-appointed to several provinces and cities including Jiangxi, Guangxi, Shandong, Shanghai and Chongqing.

"Zeng has been accused by the other cliques for using the regional reshuffles to boost the Shanghai Faction's share of Central Committee seats," said a veteran party cadre in Beijing.

The elevation of younger and better-educated cadres will not solve the perennial problem of the rivalry between the party secretary on the one hand, and the governor or mayor on the other.

Party bickering

In the past year or so, bitter power struggles between the party boss and the head of executive wing of government have erupted in cities and provinces including Shanghai, Chongqing, Hainan and Yunnan.

All four instances called for the personal mediation of top leaders including President Jiang and Premier Zhu Rongji.

The well-known bickering between the Party Secretary of Shanghai Huang Ju and the just departed mayor, Xu Kuangdi, was a particularly glaring case.

Their failure to work in harmony was one reason behind the transfer to Beijing of Xu, who was very popular with foreign investors.

This was despite claims by new mayor Chen that reports about the differences between Huang and Xu were "mere rumor-mongering."

According to reforms introduced in the mid to late 1980s by former party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, the role of party secretaries in units including factories and universities was curtailed to enable professional administrators such as managers and presidents to call the shots.

It was also Zhao's idea that the authority of the party bosses of cities and provinces be reduced so that more powers be given to governors and mayors.

Change unlikely

Jiang, however, has put more emphasis on the old ideal of "party leadership," which has resulted in administrative deadlocks in a number of key provinces and cities.

The other problem with the on-going personnel changes is departure from the principle of checks and balances.

For example, national and regional people's congresses are supposed to supervise the work of the party committees and governments of the same level.

In the 14 provinces and major cities that have undergone reshuffles, however, four party secretaries have been concurrently appointed heads of provincial and municipal people's congresses.

The phenomenon of party secretaries doubling as parliamentary chiefs is even more widespread in lower-level units such as counties and townships

It goes without saying that the so-called "principle of cross-leadership" would undermine the supervisory functions of people's congresses.

Given these limitations, it is not surprising that quite a few of the new leaders have been chosen more for loyalty – to the central leadership in general and a particular faction in particular – rather than capability.

The recent spate of mishaps ranging from explosions perpetrated by disgruntled workers, to industrial accidents in coal mines and fireworks factories, have cast doubt on the ability of regional cadres to maintain basic law and order.

Then there was the total collapse of telephone services in Hainan Province late last month when, for nearly 24 hours, residents on the island could only rely on mobile phones.

Diplomatic analysts say governors and party secretaries picked because of political reliability are unlikely to break new ground on reform even if they make it to the Politburo later this year.


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