Quiet achiever faces challenges after winter transport chaos

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2008, 12:00am

New Transport Minister Li Shenglin has earned a reputation for quiet achievement. But his challenge will be to improve efficiency to avoid a repeat of the traffic chaos that paralysed the mainland following snowstorms.

The Ministry of Railways, which has not been absorbed by Mr Li's new mega-ministry, has been a lightning rod for criticism over how the government managed the weather disaster in January and February.

But officials' inability to clear roads and inform drivers of problems also caused massive traffic jams lasting for days. That happened on Mr Li's watch, since he headed the Ministry of Communications - which previously managed transport - for the past two years.

When snowstorms struck Guizhou province in February, Mr Li went to the front line, accompanying Premier Wen Jiabao, state media reported. He ordered transport companies to stop delivering coal for export and to redirect shipments to domestic power plants.

Mr Li, 61, started out at a tractor plant in Tianjin, eventually serving as mayor of the northern port city from 1998 to 2002. Some credit him with laying the groundwork for allowing Tianjin to develop, though the city did not really flourish until former central bank chief Dai Xianglong succeeded Mr Li.

'The great development of Tianjin, we can see now, was largely based on his hard work,' said Chen Tong , a professor in the school of public management at Tianjin University. 'There were few apparent achievements during his term because the city developed slowly at that time and was undergoing reform of its industrial structure.'

Tianjin languished for years in the shadow of nearby Beijing. The central government has now designated the city's Binhai district as a state-level special economic zone. Tianjin has also been chosen as the site for an Airbus manufacturing plant and a testing ground for currency reforms.

During more than 30 years in Tianjin, Mr Li, a native of Jiangsu, worked his way up through the tractor and machinery industries. He studied agricultural mechanisation in Shanghai. His Tianjin jobs included a post in the planning division, director of the textile bureau, vice-mayor and deputy party secretary.

'The former mayor maintained a stable, gentle and plain style of working, instead of being aggressive and high-profile, because he was elevated from the grass roots step by step,' Professor Chen said.

Mr Li's efforts earned him a position as vice-chairman of the State Economic and Trade Commission and later vice-chairman of the more powerful National Development and Reform Commission.

The new Ministry of Transport will combine its predecessor, the Ministry of Communications, with the General Administration of Civil Aviation and the lumbering State Postal Bureau. It will be responsible for road, water and air transport.