Li Peng is latest party veteran to bask in spotlight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:07pm

A lengthy People's Daily piece yesterday praising controversial former premier Li Peng is being seen as the latest attempt by party elders to flex their political muscles during sensitive talks to finalise the party's next leadership line-up.

The article, which ran for nearly a full page in the party's main mouthpiece, extolled the virtues of Li's efforts to speed up economic development and overhaul state-owned enterprises. It was written by He Chunlin , who served as secretary general of the National People's Congress, while Li, 83, was its chairman between 1998 and 2003.

Before taking that role, Li (pictured) served 10 years as premier.

Some analysts said Li, who may be responsible for the June 4 crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, appears to be attempting to protect his family's business interests under the new leadership.

The laudatory article, which focused on a recently published book of speeches and economic essays by Li, coincides with a critical gathering of past and current party leaders to hammer out major decisions ahead of the 18th party congress this autumn.

Vice President Xi Jinping and several other Politburo members have in recent days gathered in Beidaihe , in Hebei province, where current and retired Communist Party chiefs often hold midsummer retreats to hash out political issues and policies.

Observers said they believed retired leaders like Li were attempting to let the party leadership and the public know that they still wield influence. Like Li, former president Jiang Zemin , 85, has re-emerged in recent weeks, making an usual number of public appearances for a retired official and receiving prominent coverage in the state-run media.

'The publicity is definitely designed to send out a message that they want to have a say at the Beidaihe meeting as it comes at this most politically sensitive moment,' said Dr Liu Kang, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University.

Liu said that Chinese leaders would use the Beidaihe meetings to try to finalise details of the leadership transition and decide how to best wrap up the political scandal surrounding Bo Xilai's removal as Chongqing party boss and suspension from the Politburo.

Liu, who heads Duke University's China Research Centre, said Bo's downfall had complicated the leadership transition and made the jockeying over positions and ideological issues more intense than ever.

As such, he said elders such as Li and Jiang might be trying to check the power of the administration headed by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao .