Rising political stars impress the media pack
Two rising political stars pulled off livelier-than-expected press sessions on the sidelines of the National People's Congress at the weekend, offering a glimpse into the mindset of the next generation of leaders.
Zhang Gaoli, the party secretary of Tianjin, and Zhou Qiang, party secretary of Hunan province, did not offer substantial insights into their policies, but they appeared candid and open in separate press conferences on Saturday.
The two leaders, among others, have become the focus of the annual parliamentary session because they are the next generation of leaders to take over after the 18th party congress in the autumn.
Zhang, 65, is likely to be elevated to the nine-people Politburo Standing Committee - the Communist Party's innermost power circle. And speculation is swirling that Zhou, 51, will make it to the Politburo during the leadership transition.
'In the run-up to the leadership reshuffle, some politicians on the mainland have started shaping up their personal images to gain public trust,' said Zhang Lifan, a China affairs commentator formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The session with Zhou - arguably one of the country's most promising politicians amid speculation he would become the nation's next leader in a decade - attracted a full house of domestic and overseas media on Saturday. One reporter even shouted, 'I am from Mars' in a desperate effort to obtain an opportunity to ask a question.
Zhou addressed questions from so-called naked officials, referring to Communist Party officials who stay on the mainland while their wives and children live abroad, to crack down on underground crime organisations in the province.
'I am not a naked official,' said Zhou, a lawyer by training.
When asked whether he would replace Bo Xilai as Chongqing party chief, as it was widely rumoured, Zhou adroitly replied: 'I am the party secretary of Hunan; it is my responsibility to perform well any tasks related to the province.'
Zhang looked more cautious than Zhou, but cracked a few memorable lines. When asked by a South China Morning Post reporter about his possible political moves, Zhang laughed.
'Anything about the 18th party congress is just speculation,' he said. 'I am a poor kid. My responsibility is to stay faithful to my job, honestly work for the public and serve the people wholeheartedly.'
One analyst said Zhang Gaoli's emphasis on 'poor kid' could refer to the hard feelings among Tianjin officials who believe the municipality had been overshadowed and under close watch by Beijing, but it could also be a tactic to distance himself from cadres, such as Bo, who are the offspring of previous party leaders.
'There is dissatisfaction, both inside and outside the party, about the sons of previous leaders,' political analyst Chen Ziming said. 'To get public support, Zhang is stressing that he does not have such a background.'
Commentator Zhang Lifan added: 'He is saying that he can advance his career because he works hard.'
The Tianjin party chief is considered a low-profile official, who took a few questions from the press at last year's parliamentary session.
But he chatted with internet users last month.
'The opinions expressed by internet users are basically true. If we don't study and care about them, then we owe an apology to [the internet users] and the common people,' he said.