Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whither the People's Premier?

Go read this if you have any interest in rumors of power struggles within China's top leadership. The Australian cites a Hong Kong magazine's report that hard-liners within the CCP seek to oust popular Premier Wen Jiabao from his position:
Rivalries inside the party have broken out behind the facade of unity erected for the Olympic Games, said Kaifang (Open), the monthly magazine known for its political sources inside China and its publication of information banned in the media.

It said hardliners in the party's propaganda department and at the People's Daily newspaper had orchestrated a campaign of abuse directed at Mr Wen's supposed support for universal values such as democracy and human rights.

"China's ship of reform is on the rocks and risks sinking," Kaifang said in its analysis. "The party needs to find a scapegoat."

Last week, important land reforms were put on hold.

Mr Wen had also been passed over for the job of heading a prestigious committee, the magazine said. It listed several press attacks, which, as is often the case in Chinese politics, did not identify their victim but left no doubt among those in the know as to who it was.

The most prominent critic was Chen Kuiyuan, vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a rubber-stamp body whose title sums up everything it is not.

"Some in China want to dance to the West's tune," Mr Chen wrote.

The People's Daily of September 10 printed a column headlined "How to see through the theory of so-called universal values".

Today, the Prime Minister is seen by many ordinary Chinese as a friendly face at the apex of power. He has been compared to the veteran revolutionary Zhou Enlai, who is claimed to have moderated the worst crimes of Maoism.

Suspicions about Mr Wen's authoritarian credentials date back to 1989 when he went into Tiananmen Square to meet demonstrators at the side of his boss Zhao Ziyang, the reformist general secretary of the Communist Party.
(you can view the famous photo of that incident here)

Wen cemented his popularity among "ordinary" Chinese by his prompt response to the disastrous Sichuan earthquake earlier this year, flying immediately to the scene, promising aid and offering comfort. Symbolic gestures, perhaps, but potent ones coming from a leadership that is not known for its accessibility to the public. If "social harmony" is the goal of Hu Jintao's administration, he might want to think about the impact of ousting Wen, one of the few political figures among the top leadership whom the laobaixing consider responsive to their needs.

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