Changchun baby murder

Zhang Dejiang: Bumpy ride in the fast lane

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am

Controversy always seems to dog Zhang Dejiang . The 60-year old Guangdong Party secretary has earned as much praise as criticism during his decade at the helm of China's two richest provinces.

Supporters describe him as an energetic leader who is cautious yet decisive. He is said to be capable of handling complex situations and making difficult decisions.

Mr Zhang, who was the party secretary of Zhejiang between 1998 and 2002 before moving to Guangdong, is also the man behind the formation of the Pan Pearl River Delta - a gigantic economic co-operation platform that covers a third of the country.

His detractors, however, portray Mr Zhang as an ultra-conservative who owes his career more to good relationships with top leaders than real achievements. They hold him responsible for the social and political disturbances in Guangdong, and most importantly, over the 2003 Sars outbreak which rocked the country to its core.

Speculation about his promotion prospects - he remains a Politburo member but did not make it onto the Standing Committee - evoked mixed reactions.

Mr Zhang had long been seen as a rising star. The Liaoning -born official started his political career in Jilin in the northeast industrial rustbelt.

A student of the Korean language in the Jilin border prefecture of Yuanbian, Mr Zhang was sent to North Korea in 1978 to complete his education. He graduated in economics from Kim Il-sung Comprehensive University in Pyongyang in 1980 - a rare qualification that sets Mr Zhang apart from his contemporaries.

How much Mr Zhang learned about modern economics during his days in North Korea is not clear but the Korean knowledge certainly helped his career.

Returning from Pyongyang, Mr Zhang was appointed to leadership positions back in Yuanbian. It was there that Mr Zhang caught the eyes of the top leaders with his adroit handling of the sensitive issue of illegal North Korean immigrants.

In March 1990, party secretary Jiang Zemin visited North Korea to rally support for an internationally-isolated China. He was accompanied by Mr Zhang, who was promoted to vice-party-secretary of Jilin shortly after the visit. In October of that year he was called to Beijing for a high-profile meeting with Mr Jiang, who openly praised Mr Zhang for his work and asked him to turn Yuanbian into a 'model prefecture' for the nation.

His political career has been in the fast lane since then. Mr Zhang became the party secretary of Jilin in 1995 and the party secretary of Zhejiang in 1998.

But even though he is well-versed in the ways of the party, he has hit some embarrassingly wrong notes. In 2001, a few months before Mr Jiang threw his weight behind the controversial move to allow business owners to join the party, Mr Zhang wrote an article attacking the idea, saying it would be the ruin of the organisation.