Ailing vice-premier back in limelight after five months

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am

Vice-Premier Huang Ju made an official appearance yesterday after disappearing from the public scene for five months.

Mr Huang, 68, attended the opening ceremony of the biennial General Assembly of Academicians - a gathering of top scientists from the Academy of Sciences and Academy of Engineering - held at the Great Hall of the People, according to Xinhua.

Xinhua said President Hu Jintao delivered a speech at the meeting. Mr Huang sat through the opening ceremony along with other members of the Politburo Standing Committee and top party and government leaders.

China Central Television showed a pale-looking Mr Huang sitting next to Vice-President Zeng Qinghong and party discipline chief Wu Guanzheng .

Mainland officials confirmed in March that Mr Huang had fallen ill and was unable to attend the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

The South China Morning Post first reported in February that Mr Huang had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and admitted to hospital. The Post also reported last month that he planned to return to the limelight early this month as a gesture that he was still on China's political stage - at least partially.

The Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao reported on its website yesterday that there were rounds of applause from the academics when they saw Mr Huang on stage. It also said a number of participants approached him to shake hands.

There were signs in the past few months that Mr Huang would make a partial political comeback. At the NPC annual meeting in March, Wu Jianmin - a spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - said Mr Huang was recovering, while confirming he had been admitted to hospital.

Then in both April and last month, Mr Huang sent congratulatory messages to conferences which he was not able to attend - signals that he was still exercising his power as a state leader.

Despite Mr Huang's public appearance yesterday, it is believed he will only be able to resume partial duty as it is unlikely a pancreatic cancer patient can face the heavy workload of a vice-premier.

Mr Huang is widely considered a close ally of former president Jiang Zemin . His appearance yesterday indicated that he remained a member of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, despite his illness.

His presence on the Standing Committee could have an effect on the party congress to be held in autumn next year, at which Mr Hu is expected to reshuffle the leadership and promote his supporters to the highest echelons of power.

If Mr Huang is forced to retire early because of his illness, it could mean supporters of Mr Jiang would lose a powerful voice in the intense jockeying ahead of the party congress.