Wu Bangguo

Wu Bangguo: Shanghai connection has helped his rise

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2002, 12:00am


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Wu Bangguo can thank his 30-year relationship with Shanghai for making him one of China's nine most powerful politicians.

He was named yesterday to the nine-member Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo, which will govern for the next five years. Mr Wu, 62, has put in three decades of patient but otherwise unremarkable work in Shanghai, followed by a promotion to Beijing as vice-premier in 1995. In his most recent post, he has handled the most difficult portfolio in government - industry and the state sector.

He oversaw the biggest labour down-sizing in history. Since 1990, the number of state factories has fallen by more than half, from 100,000 to 42,900 at the end of July - with a loss of 25 million jobs.

Mr Wu has had the unenviable task of balancing economic arguments for closing antiquated factories against urgent pleas from city mayors desperate to keep bloated state-owned enterprises open in the name of social stability and political peace.

It has been his role to find a compromise between the two objectives - rationalising the economic structure while preventing the streets from exploding in anger and the kind of labour unrest that helped topple communism in eastern Europe.

According to official accounts, about 17 million of China's laid-off workers have found new jobs and large-scale social unrest appears to have been avoided. However, since the state media rarely reports such unrest, it is hard to judge just how stable the situation really is.

In any event, Mr Wu has received the credit for overseeing this transition and transforming the state sector.

The other, more important, bargaining chip he holds in the struggle for high office is a long association with Shanghai.

Mr Wu, a native of Feidong in Anhui province, was assigned to Shanghai Number 3 Electronic Tube Factory after graduating in 1967 from the department of radio and electronics at Tsinghua University, which has produced many of China's leaders. He worked as an engineer, and later factory chief, until 1980.

Official accounts describe Mr Wu as a diligent and cautious man, who kept a low profile through the tumultuous political debates and 'criticism sessions' which swept Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution.

In the 1980s, his career took off. In 1982, he became deputy secretary of the party committee of the city's telecommunications industrial bureau and in 1983 deputy secretary of the party committee.

He worked closely with President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, who both served as Shanghai's mayor and party chief, giving him connections that have helped carry him to his present stature.

In 1991, he became party chief of the city - one of the youngest city leaders - succeeding Mr Zhu, who moved to Beijing as vice-premier.

Mr Wu was named to the Politburo in 1992, and in March 1995 moved to Beijing to serve as a vice-premier.

Stories circulated in Shanghai at that time that Mr Wu did not want to leave the booming city, which was enjoying a host of privileges from the central government, to enter the state sector. He is said to have pleaded with his superiors in Beijing to leave him where he was.

It seems he was told that he was the choice for the job and that the first responsibility of a party member was to obey orders.

A Western diplomat says: 'Within the Politburo, he arouses less resentment than other Jiang supporters. He has kept his head down and stayed out of trouble. He has avoided a strong personal stand that can end a political career in China.'

An engineer, Mr Wu also has gained from his knowledge of industry - including telecommunications, high technology and energy - priority sectors for the economy in the past 10 years.

While he has never lived or studied abroad, Mr Wu has travelled widely as a vice-premier and also has received many visiting business executives in Beijing.

1941: Born in Feidong, Anhui province

1967: Graduated from the faculty of radio and electronics at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, and was assigned to a position at the Shanghai Number Three Electronic Tube Factory

1980-81: Appointed deputy manager at the Shanghai Electronic Device Industrial Company

1982-83: Became the deputy party chief of the Shanghai city Telecommunications Industrial Bureau

1983-85: Took the position as deputy Communist Party chief of Shanghai

1991: Shanghai party chief

1992: Joined the Politburo

1995: Moved to Beijing as vice-premier with responsibility for industry and operation of the state sector