Zhang Dejiang

Party politics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 12:00am


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Everyone who endured last month's 16th party congress - a humourless week-long affair, thankfully held just once every five years - will be glad to learn that communism and comedy are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.

Witness the appointment late last month of Zhang Dejiang as the party's senior representative in Guangdong province. Guangdong is China's most entrepreneurial and market-oriented regional economy. Interestingly, Mr Zhang once studied economics in North Korea.

For Guangdong, however, the appointment of a Pyongyang-trained economist as its newest party secretary is no laughing matter.

Mr Zhang, who studied Korean at Yanbian University in Jilin and economics at Kim Il-song University in Pyongyang, is a 56-year-old native of Liaoning province in northeast China. Ironically, his period of study in North Korea, from 1978 to 1980, coincided with Deng Xiaoping's rise to power and the beginning of China's irreversible departure from the lunacies of Stalinist economics.

Fortunately, Mr Zhang's subsequent government appointments have given him ample opportunity to forget everything he was taught in Pyongyang. His most recent stint, as party secretary in coastal Zhejiang - a province where the private sector is particularly vigorous, especially in cities like Wenzhou - should have been most useful in this regard.

So Guangdong has little to fear in the way of a Korean-style rollback from Mr Zhang. From a local perspective, what is more troublesome about his appointment is the sore points it highlights: Guangdong's long-standing lack of representation at the highest levels of power in Beijing - exacerbated over recent years by a succession of non-native party secretaries sent by the central government to clamp down on the traditionally free-wheeling and independently minded province.

Meanwhile, the newly selected Politburo Standing Committee - like the one that preceded it - is packed with former Shanghai officials who can be counted on to continue to represent the northern city's interests.

Guangdong, however, has not had a real champion in Beijing since local hero and long-serving party secretary Xie Fei, who died in October 1999. But even Xie only sat on the Politburo, and not its Standing Committee.