Party's young guns readying for showdown

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2010, 12:00am

In China's opaque politics, nothing is more intriguing than the perceived rivalry between Bo Xilai, the party secretary of Chongqing and Wang Yang, the party secretary of Guangdong, which has been subtly played out in the state media and boisterously discussed behind closed doors.

This is expected to continue until the autumn of 2012 when the Communist Party holds its 18th congress to elect the so-called fifth generation leadership, for which both Bo and Xi are strong contenders.

At first glance, Bo appears to have the upper hand.

Since June when he launched an unprecedented crackdown on the triads and corrupt officials in Chongqing, netting more than 2,000 suspects and several dozen senior municipal officials, police officers and judges, Bo has been hailed in state media and internet chat rooms as a leading corruption fighter. Left-leaning forces on the mainland see him as a national hero.

One apparent reason Wang has been dragged into this spectacle is because he was party secretary of Chongqing from 2005 to 2007 before Bo took over. Since Bo said he was forced to act because of the rampant lawlessness in the metropolis, this has naturally put Wang in a jam. During his rein there was little report of any significant threat from the violence of gangsters and their collusion with corrupt officials.

But many overseas analysts have seen the rivalry between Bo and Wang as the proxy fight between two political factions manoeuvring for advantages in the run-up to the 18th congress.

Bo, 60, is the son of Bo Yibo, once one of the party's most influential elders. The younger Bo is generally considered to be a member of the loosely connected faction of the so-called princelings - children of party veterans and former senior government officials.

Wang, 55, is widely seen as a strong ally of President Hu Jintao because of his strong background in the Communist Youth League, which was Hu's power base.

Both Bo and Wang are already members of the party's powerful Politburo and are widely tipped as strong contenders for seats on the Politburo Standing Committee, where power is concentrated, in 2012.

Hence analysts are poring over the state media reports of their public activities and speeches to detect political undertones and nuances.

For instance, following Bo's high-profile campaign, Guangdong media quoted Wang as saying the province's anti-triad campaign had become permanent, and so would not achieve the same sensational effect as Chongqing's.

Their interests were further raised last month when Wang led a delegation of more than 1,000 Guangdong officials and entrepreneurs to Chongqing to broaden economic co-operation, after six months of media reports hailing Bo's anti-triad campaign.

According to reports of their meeting, both men heaped praises on the other and promised 'a marriage' of economic alliances between Chongqing and Guangdong, with Wang stressing his personal feelings towards Chongqing.

The meeting was apparently aimed at defusing the tension between the two, with Bo quoted as saying that he had invited Wang to Chongqing and praising Guangdong's anti-triad campaign.

Just as analysts believe the meeting would help to dial down the intense speculation regarding the two, state media last week carried lengthy reports praising Wang, which could reignite speculation. The reports, carried in the inaugural issue of the Economy & Nation Weekly and the latest issue of the Earth Weekly, contained no earth-shaking news. However, it is worth noting that the first publication is sponsored by Xinhua news agency and the second is sponsored by the People's Daily, the two major propaganda arms of the Communist Party.

The language used to describe Wang was even more intriguing. The Earth Weekly article is entitled 'Young Marshal' Wang Yang. In Chinese history, the particular phrase 'young marshal' is specifically used to describe the son of a warlord groomed to assume power.

The article went on to describe Wang as possessing a distinct background of the Communist Youth League and hard-to-come-by expertise on economics and finance - 'his future is limitless and holds room for further imagination'.

The Economy & Nation Weekly piece also focused on Wang's reform credentials, saying that since he became party boss of Guangdong in 2007, he battled local bureaucrats and even the central government to push his reform agenda.

It is difficult to tell whether publication of the two pieces was orchestrated, but the fulsome praise of Wang's reform credentials is clearly aimed at rallying support behind him.

Meanwhile, it is equally worth noting that although Bo has basked in the praise of the media and internet chat rooms for his anti-triad efforts, neither Hu nor Premier Wen Jiabao have made a trip to Chongqing - the most important industrial and commercial metropolis in the western region, since his campaign began six months ago.

This was despite the state media reports saying that both Hu and Wen have tried to visit as many provinces as possible to offer guidance in the wake of the global economic crisis.