Reform debate erupts at resort
HEATED debate has erupted at the annual Beidaihe meeting of top Chinese leaders over the pace of reform, the anti-corruption campaign and how to proceed with the controversial austerity programme.
Regional officials were putting pressure on Beijing to relax credits and give them greater authority to try out new reform initiatives, Chinese sources said.
Although not openly lobbying, the local cadres are also pushing Beijing to call a halt to the anti-corruption drive.
However, sources said senior leaders including Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji want to carry on with the programme and are unlikely to budge.
The debates coincided with the recent reappearance of a senior party leader who has been relatively inactive in the past few months.
A member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Li Ruihuan, has re-emerged after disappearing for almost two months.
Since a visit to several South American countries in June, Mr Li has kept a low-profile at home, and has not been seen at any public functions.
Analysts said his low profile was unusual, given the recent sharp deterioration of China-Taiwan relations. As chairman of the CPPCC, Mr Li should be playing a key role on cross-strait policy.
In the past few days, Mr Li has re-appeared to receive foreign visitors, but is also said to have resumed giving instruction on domestic policy matters.
According to a report by Xinhua (the New China News Agency) yesterday, Mr Li recently had a meeting with private entrepreneurs.
He reassured the businessmen that China's policy towards private business would not change.
However, he also told the entrepreneurs that they should help more poverty-hit areas and regions with a high proportion of ethnic groups in China.
Analysts pointed out that the same subject - bridging the gap between rich southeast coasts and destitute hinterland provinces - was one of the few hotly discussed issues in the Beidaihe conference.
A report in yesterday's Ming Pao even said five major provinces - Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Hainan - and Shanghai jointly signed a petition urging the Government to adjust the austerity programme.
Arguing that the two-year-long programme had already severely impeded the growth of the local economy, they urged the central leadership to allow banks to relax credits and assign greater financial autonomy to the regions.
Speculation was rife that Beijing might moderately relax credits later this year as latest figures of inflation pointed to a gradual slowdown of price increases in the past seven months.
Despite opposition from local governments, Beijing imposed Draconian financial measures to keep prices in check.