Youth stressed in changing of the guard

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am

With a shuffle of local leaders basically complete, China has taken pains to emphasise the relative youth and education of its newest group of appointed officials.

The changing of the guard also marks the rise of the tuan pai faction, those with links to the Communist Youth League, the main power base of President Hu Jintao .

By the middle of last month, more than 800 officials had taken top posts in provincial and municipal governments, legislatures and political advisory bodies. The mainland routinely undergoes a change at the local level every five years, though the government and the Communist Party can make new appointments at any time.

More than 10 provinces, regions and municipalities have gained new leaders since January. More changes are possible with the annual convening of the National People's Congress next week, when it will approve new ministers at the central government level.

A total of 270 officials have taken up leadership posts in local government, 231 in provincial people's congresses and 314 in branches of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference advisory body.

The average age of these officials was 1.7 years younger than that of the previous group, the party's Organisation Department said, though it gave no figure. Regardless, more officials in the 45-to-50 age bracket were appointed. Government officials are supposed to retire at 60, though that guideline is flexible.

'The new leaders are able to pay more attention to ordinary people, work hard and pragmatically, and are younger and more vigorous. They are required to have more skills in public and political management rather than merely basic knowledge in their specialities,' said Pu Xingzu , a professor of politics at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Of the new crop of officials, at least 261 hold university degrees, as the need for professionals to run a market-oriented economy gains importance.

Professor Pu even sees a rise of more officials who are not party members. Wan Gang , a German-trained engineer and former university president, was named minister of science and technology last year. Chen Zhu, a French-trained medical scientist, became minister of health.

Mr Hu's imprint is visible on several promotions. Guo Jinlong , a Hu protege and former Anhui party chief, became mayor of Beijing.

Luo Zhijun , a political ally of Mr Hu, was named governor of Jiangsu province , one of the country's most developed areas. Mr Luo spent the early 1990s in the Communist Youth League. Jiang Daming , who also worked for the league, became governor of Shandong province .

One disgraced official even returned from the political wilderness. Meng Xuenong , who was dismissed as Beijing mayor in 2003 after being held accountable for mishandling the Sars epidemic, was appointed governor of Shanxi province - his sins apparently forgiven.

While promotions can signal rising stars, those who retain their posts or who are shifted to symbolic positions in the legislature or advisory bodies are also closely watched.

Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua was reappointed in January despite expectations he would step down from the job he has held since 2003. There is still speculation he could be replaced after the NPC session, with the province's handling of the recent weather calamity reflecting poorly on his management. He is 62.

Another official who remained in his current position was Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng , making him a political survivor. The city's youngest mayor when he took the job in early 2003, Mr Han weathered a corruption scandal that implicated more than 25 government and state company officials, including the Shanghai party secretary at the time, Chen Liangyu .

Mr Han was passed over in the selection of the city's new party boss, which sparked rumours of his imminent demise, but he managed to hold on to the mayor's post.

Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng 'needs Han for the 2010 World Expo', a Shanghai official said.

Official shuffle

Provincial chiefs appointed in January


Mayor Guo Jinlong


Mayor Huang Xingguo

Jiangsu province

Governor Luo Zhijun

Shandong province

Governor Jiang Daming

Guangxi region

Chairman Ma Biao

Hubei province

Governor Li Hongzhong

Anhui province

Governor Wang Sanyun

Xinjiang region

Chairman Nur Bekri

Shanxi province

Governor Meng Xuenong

Ningxia region

Chairman Wang Zhengwei

Liaoning province

Governor Chen Zhenggao

Heilongjiang province

Governor Li Zhanshu