Li Peng still plugged in to power industry
Nailene Chou Wiest in Beijing
Speculation rife as ex-NPC chief visits site of new petrochemical complex
A high-profile visit by Li Peng to a petrochemical construction site in Daya Bay has triggered speculation that the former NPC chief intends to continue wielding his influence on energy development.
On Monday, Mr Li visited the Huizhou Daya Bay petrochemical complex, where construction began in November. The joint project of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Royal Dutch/Shell, the largest Sino-foreign joint venture to date, is expected to come on stream at the end of next year.
During his visit, Mr Li said the Huizhou Daya Bay special economic zone had been approved by the State Council in 1993 during his tenure as premier.
Last summer, Mr Li published a journal focusing on his long-standing involvement in the construction of the Three Gorges Dam project. On October 1, he gave a National Day speech to staff at the Three Gorges project, emphasising the central role of hydraulic power plants in the national grid.
Sporadic blackouts last year exposed disarray in the power industry and the nation will be unable to sustain its economic growth unless it solves the problem. Looming shortages will particularly affect the Pearl River Delta and other coastal regions.
Mr Li's activity in retirement means he is still a force to be reckoned with, but the new leadership installed last March has undone some of the previous administration's policies.
The shambles in the power industry is, to a large extent, the consequence of a policy introduced in 1998 under premier Zhu Rongji to temporarily halt investment in power generation.
A government report on energy last month vaguely blamed 'faulty forecasts' of demand in the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-2005) for the blackouts.
In what was almost a wholesale policy reversal, the government lifted the investment ban and last year approved new projects totalling 250 million kilowatts, or about two-thirds of the current capacity.
Mr Li and his family are closely linked to the power industry. Zhu Lin, his wife, once served as director of the external affairs office of North China Power Bureau and as head of the Beijing Liaison Office of the Daya nuclear power plant. Li Xiaopeng, his son, is general manager of a utility, the Huaneng Group.
Mr Li's visit to Daya Bay followed a report last week that Royal Dutch/Shell and its joint-venture partner in the petrochemical complex, CNOOC, were considering building a US$2 billion refinery nearby.
Before visiting Daya Bay, Mr Li, who arrived in Guangdong on December 23, spent time with officials in Shenzhen.
There, he received Guangdong party secretary Zhang Dejiang, governor Huang Huahua and other top provincial leaders.