Guangdong's governor rises with region

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am

Huang Huahua's management skills and economic prowess have overshadowed mining disasters, Sars and rural unrest

The timing could not have been worse when Huang Huahua took over governorship of Guangdong , with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus making its first appearance in cities surrounding Guangzhou .

Although he landed the governor's job with popular support from the provincial legislature in early 2003, Mr Huang has since struggled with a string of problems, ranging from the province's worst mining disasters to its most violent rural unrest, and been embarrassed by slowing economic growth which has seen the mainland's powerhouse outshone by rising stars in eastern China.

Political observers say the slowdown has meant a loss of face for Mr Huang, who received orders from President Hu Jintao to ensure that Guangdong continued to lead the nation in economic growth when Shanghai, Jiangsu , Zhejiang and Shandong reported faster growth.

Guangdong also saw a number of high-profile social protests between 2003 and 2005, including a crackdown on activists and villagers in Taishi, and police firing on villagers in Shanwei . Mr Huang was also reportedly forced to make a self-criticism over the Daxing Colliery disaster in Xingning, his home town, that left 123 miners dead in August 2005.

But what has haunted the governor most is his relationship with his boss, provincial Communist Party secretary Zhang Dejiang , who, as a member of the all-powerful Politburo, is very much senior to Mr Huang in the ruling hierarchy.

It is an open secret that Mr Huang and Mr Zhang are in almost constant competition for authority and influence because they belong to different party factions. Mr Huang belongs to the so-called Communist Youth League faction headed by Mr Hu while Mr Zhang is aligned with former president Jiang Zemin .

The governor was probably seen by Mr Hu as a useful foil to the provincial party boss early in his leadership, when the central government was still dominated by his political rivals.

Although critics accused Mr Huang of mishandling the Sars outbreak, which spread worldwide, the governor later won praise from the World Health Organisation and the central government for controlling the spread of the virus locally and for the treatment regime developed in Guangdong.

Mr Hu fired health minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing mayor Meng Xuenong but spared the Guangdong leader.

After four years as governor, Mr Huang's position has been boosted by positive report cards and Mr Hu's consolidated grip on power. Analysts believe the removal of Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu , a key member of the 'Shanghai Gang' led by Mr Jiang, in September suggested Mr Hu was beating his political rivals and would likely promote allies to top positions in a major reshuffle of the leadership at this autumn's National Party Congress.

Colleagues say Mr Huang, a machinery engineering graduate from Zhongshan University, stands out because of his diligence, organisational skills and economic sense.

'He is an outstanding governor with ability and skills in managing the economy,' said Xu Shaohua , the mayor of Zhanjiang in western Guangdong.

Mr Huang was Shaoguan party secretary in 1978. He became deputy party secretary of the provincial Communist Youth League in 1982 and its party secretary in 1985. From 1988 to 1992, he was deputy party secretary and mayor of Meizhou .

In 1992, he was appointed secretary-general of the Guangdong party committee, then the following year he was promoted to deputy party secretary.

He also served a four-year stint as Guangzhou party boss, where he earned a reputation as a reformist for helping oversee the remarkable transformation of the provincial capital into a modern metropolis.

The epitome of the hardworking, pragmatic Guangdong native, the governor is also typical of the nation's new leadership - young and educated, with a Communist Youth League background and experience gathered from working up through the ranks.

Guangdong accounted for about 12 per cent of national gross domestic product last year, leading the next two biggest provincial economies by a substantial margin.

In the first half of last year, the province's GDP was 1.14 trillion yuan, far larger than Shandong's 1.02 trillion yuan and Jiangsu's 987.12 billion yuan.

'Under Mr Huang's leadership, Guangdong has maintained its No1 place in economy among all the provinces,' Mr Xu, an NPC deputy, said of his boss.

Wu Zixiang , another Guangdong NPC deputy, said: 'Without him, Guangdong could not have made such remarkable progress in the past few years.'

Guangdong also ranks first in a number of other economic indicators, including retail sales, industrial production, individuals' bank savings, tax revenue, government revenue, fixed-asset investment, freight transport volume, hi-tech industrial output, and the number of applications for scientific and technological patents.

Guangdong's imports and exports account for a third of the country's total international trade and the province had attracted US$162.9 billion in foreign investment by the end of 2005, more than a quarter of the national total.

Local officials say Mr Huang is keen to attract talent to Guangdong, seeing it as a crucial factor in sustaining economic growth and the province now leads the nation in importing 'foreign brains'. It employed 167,000 foreign professionals in 2005, more than a third of the country's total.

The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping set the goal in 1992 of Guangdong overtaking the Four Tigers - Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea - in economic terms within 20 years.

The governor is confident Guangdong will have overtaken at least three of them by 2010. The southern province outstripped Singapore at the end of the last millennium and Hong Kong in 2005.

With an economy US$80 billion smaller than Taiwan's, but growing at a faster pace, Mr Huang said Guangdong would soon overtake the island in economic output.

Guangdong has also been recognised for its remarkable progress in promoting quality growth following moves by Beijing to make energy efficiency and air quality key to officials' career prospects.

A recent survey by the central government suggested Guangdong was the most economical province, in terms of energy consumption per unit of GDP in 2005, as it used 0.79 tonnes of standard coal equivalent for every 10,000 yuan of output. That compared with the 4.14 tonnes used in the northwestern province of Ningxia , the nation's most inefficient energy user.

For all his success, Mr Huang's age - he is 60 - puts him at a disadvantage because another five-year term will see him reach 65, the retirement age for top posts.

He is also unlikely to succeed Mr Zhang because Beijing is keen to avoid appointing people to the leadership of their home provinces.

This undoubtedly means that when Mr Huang gets his next promotion, to provincial-level party secretary or a higher position, he will be leaving his home province.