Youth on governor's side in climb up political ladder

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am

Hunan leader's career path similar to President Hu's

Hunan Governor Zhou Qiang, who turns 47 next month, became the youngest governor in China when he landed the central province's top post last year.

His age is undoubtedly precious political capital, giving him many more years than his competitors in the race up the political ladder before he reaches 65, the retirement age for provincial and ministerial posts.

But what makes him one of the most closely watched rising political stars is the similar career path he shares with President Hu Jintao and Liaoning party boss Li Keqiang, who is widely tipped as the frontrunner to succeed Mr Hu.

All three once served as first secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League - Mr Hu's power base - from where the president has elevated a number of proteges to top government posts.

Mr Zhou headed the youth league for eight years before being appointed Hunan governor - his first shot at leading a local government.

Unlike Mr Hu and Mr Li, however, who were hardly heard of during their time in the youth league and still remain enigmas to the outside world, Mr Zhou was already a controversial figure before he was sent to Hunan to accumulate political runs for his portfolio.

Mr Zhou played a crucial role last year when the youth league decided to close Bingdian, an outspoken section of China Youth Daily, after it published an article by scholar Yuan Weishi , and in the sacking of two Bingdian editors, Li Datong and Lu Yuegang .

After he was sacked, Mr Lu, a veteran journalist, released a letter he wrote to Mr Zhou in 2004 because he believed he was being punished for describing Mr Zhou in the letter as being vain and obsessed with formality.

In the letter, which was also addressed to Mr Zhou's deputy, Zhao Yong, Mr Lu also accused Mr Zhou of ignoring students who fainted from heat stroke during a visit to a school where he carried on with his speech.

Mr Zhou was obviously unharmed by the negative publicity, although he is known for his caution and conservatism among local journalists after his appointment to Hunan.

In his first encounter with Hong Kong journalists yesterday, Mr Zhou was friendly but gave away little about himself with his short and carefully crafted answers.

When asked how he would compare his job as a provincial leader with his job in the youth league, Mr Zhou said: 'The characteristics of the jobs in the central government and local government are different.

'Different posts and different experiences are a kind of accumulation for the new posts.'

Asked how his past experience in the youth league helped him in his new role, Mr Zhou said: 'It includes many aspects, including work, including resources.'

In response to a question about the advantages of youth to his job as governor, Mr Zhou said: 'I will do more concrete work.'

As to how he would prioritise his work in Hunan, Mr Zhou said: 'Hunan's cadres and public are most concerned with the good and fast-paced development of Hunan, and therefore the provincial government has put fast-paced and good development of Hunan at the top of the agenda.'

His meticulous attention to detail is also similar that of his patron, Mr Hu. Hunan journalists who interview him are required to send their reports - printed in designated format and font - for him to vet personally.

Government departments were also told to print reports they submitted to Mr Hu in a designated format and font when he became president.

Mr Hu seems happy with his protege. He visited Hunan's delegation on Tuesday, a gesture of support for Mr Zhou and party secretary Zhang Chunxian , who is also a rising political star.