New mayor set to clean up in Guangzhou

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2012, 12:00am


The man chosen to be Guangzhou's new mayor, Chen Jianhua, is described as a pragmatic and open-minded Communist Party veteran who is likely to focus on environmental protection, livelihood issues and clean governance.

The 56-year-old Hakka, born in Lufeng, was appointed deputy party head of Guangzhou on December 16, deputy mayor on December 19, and acting mayor a day later.

His formal appointment is expected to take place at this month's annual meeting of the city's people's congress.

Formerly party head of Heyuan , in the mountains of eastern Guangdong, Chen is credited with giving the city a clean and efficient government over the past four years.

He reportedly rejected 30 billion yuan (HK$36.5 billion) in investments from polluting industries and ordered cadres to accept petitions via e-mail and their microblogs.

Dr Peng Peng, from the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said Chen's record suggests he would aggressively champion Guangzhou's drive to improve its environment, economy and integrity of governance. 'That's what impressed provincial and central leaders,' Peng said.

'He could definitely replicate such success in Guangzhou.

'Moving to Guangzhou is a promotion for Chen, but he obviously needs greater political achievements to climb further.

'He is already 56 and that's not young in the Chinese cadre system. His direct boss [Guangzhou party chief Wan Qingliang ] is eight years his junior. The next few years will be the key to his career.

'I bet he will work hard and launch specific programmes to make himself and Guangzhou stand out.'

Peng believes Chen faces many challenges. For instance, making Guangzhou the first mainland city to publish PM2.5 readings, which show the level of inhalable fine particulates in the air; shaping Nansha into the best logistics hub in Asia by beating Shenzhen's Qianhai district and Shanghai's Pudong New Area; and cracking down on official corruption and extravagance. The epitome of the hardworking, pragmatic reformist, Chen worked his way up the party hierarchy after an early connection with the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

From 1984, Chen was secretary to senior Guangdong party figure Xie Fei, who went on to become provincial party chief and pushed for economic growth in the province.

In the spring of 1992, Deng made his famous southern tour, reasserting his economic policy after his official retirement.

During Deng's trip to Guangdong, Chen accompanied Deng and Xie, recorded Deng's speeches and helped organise the tour.

Deng made several famous speeches and generated a lot of support for his reformist platform. He stressed the importance of economic reforms and criticised those who opposed further trade liberalisation.

'Few people understand Deng and Xie's blueprint to develop the Pearl River Delta better than Chen,' a person close to Chen said. 'As a reformist at that time, Chen witnessed all the difficulties and struggles to develop Guangdong.

Chen also values his reputation for incorruptibility. The person said Chen had told the media repeatedly, 'If I take a bribe of a cent, I'm not worth a cent'.

In 1993, Chen was appointed deputy director of the Guangdong government's general office. Five years later, he became a standing committee member of the Guangzhou party committee and party chief of Conghua .

As head of Guangzhou's propaganda department from 2002 to 2007, Chen helped oversee the city's transformation into a modern metropolis, and in 2007 he was asked to become the party head of Heyuan.

Chen's years in the propaganda department have given him the ability to publicise himself and the city he governs. His lecturers at Sun Yat-sen University - where he studied for a master's degree in administrative management from 2005 to 2008 - remember his eloquence, noting that he loved culture and debating.

'He's open-minded and good at building his image of being practical and putting people first,' said Professor Cai Lihui.

In 2008, Chen became the first high-ranking official in Guangdong to publicise his personal e-mail address, and in 2010, he opened his microblog to the public.

Guangzhou hosted the Asian Games impressively last year, which some estimate to have cost more than 200 billion yuan. But the city also faces some tough challenges.

Small and medium-sized firms are leaving the city because of surging costs, while competition is growing from cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin , Shenzhen and Suzhou .

Fiscal revenue is also falling sharply due to the bursting of the property bubble, and the debts from the Games have led some to warn that the city could find itself short of cash to pay for public services.

'That may be why the authorities have given the reins of Guangzhou to Chen for the next few years,' the person close to him said. 'An official with reformist credentials could be just what they want.'