Wang Yang

Holiday row highlights delicate internal affairs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 March, 2009, 12:00am

Beijing's decision to stop local authorities from reinstalling the May 1 'golden week' holiday came at a 'rather intriguing' time - and highlighted the delicate relations between the central government and leaders in Guangdong - analysts say.

The State Council's order that local authorities stick to its holiday schedule came just a day after the Guangdong government held a press conference to announce its plan to bring back the week-long Labour Day holiday.

While Beijing did not single out Guangdong for blame in yesterday's statement, the timing of its reaction raised eyebrows among political experts. It would inevitably add fuel to speculation of apparent discord between the central and Guangdong governments - and between Premier Wen Jiabao and Guangdong Communist Party boss Wang Yang in particular - over the southern province's future, the experts said.

They were confused about the exact message Beijing wanted to convey, as some parts of the 500-word statement seemed ambiguous, they said.

Ren Yuling, a consultant to the State Council, said the document came at a sensitive time for Guangdong and the whole country.

By urging local authorities to abide by its previous arrangements on public holidays and paid annual leave, 'the central government apparently wants to make sure that workers are well treated', said Mr Ren.

Guangdong's holiday plan would strike many as a challenge to Beijing's authority, he said.

'Local authorities should align themselves closely with the central government,' he said. 'How dare it have a separate holiday plan?'

Although Xinhua said the State Council statement was released 'the other day' - an apparent attempt to leave the impression that it was prepared before Guangdong's announcement - Peng Zhenhuai, an expert on local politics, said it had in effect killed Guangdong's plan.

Professor Peng, executive president of the local government academy at Peking University, said the move had underlined the delicacy of the situation between Beijing and Guangdong.

'The deliberately vague wording in the document appears to be aimed at covering up ongoing conflicts and discord between central and Guangdong authorities,' he said.

He noted Mr Wang was keen to promote industrial upgrading by closing labour-intensive and polluting factories, whereas Mr Wen appeared to worry more about soaring unemployment when he stressed, during his two Guangdong visits last year, government support for small and medium-sized enterprises worst hit by the global financial crisis.

'The central government is afraid that more workers will lose their jobs during the long break in May considering what happened during the Lunar New Year holiday,' Professor Peng said.

Although Beijing's move was probably in the best interests of the whole country, with stability being the top priority, he said it failed to take into account Guangdong's need for industrial transformation.

Even so, he questioned the way Beijing took action.

'It's hard to understand why such a document was released at all because it would have been more effective for Beijing to call a halt to Guangdong's May holiday plan, which would serve as a clear warning to local governments in other regions as well,' Professor Peng said.

In any case, experts appeared to agree that the document's ambiguity - typical of many interactions between central and local bureaucrats - would probably not persuade local authorities, and others who support the resumption of the seven-day May holiday, to change their minds.