High praise for Shanghai party boss

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2012, 12:00am

The People's Daily has heaped lavish praise on Shanghai's steady development under the city's party boss, Yu Zhengsheng - praise that political analysts see as a boost for the princeling's chances of being promoted in the autumn leadership shake-up.

The front-page splash of the Communist Party mouthpiece yesterday - an obvious endorsement of Yu's political achievements in the mainland's financial hub since he took over the post from predecessor Xi Jinping shortly after the last National Party Congress five years ago - comes at a sensitive time.

Key questions remain unanswered surrounding last month's sacking of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, which has unleashed a political tsunami on the mainland, including Beijing's final say on the so-called Chongqing model - Bo's controversial theory of development advocating a redistribution of wealth and social justice.

Bo's removal has widely been seen as a major setback for conservative leftists, whose comeback in recent years was widely viewed as a threat to Beijing's reform and opening up.

Although the 7,100-word article, headlined 'Shanghai strives for success in transformation and development', made no mention of the now notorious Chongqing model, reminiscent of the Maoist era, analysts noted that Shanghai and Yu were praised primarily for sticking to the policies of the top leadership.

'Shanghai, which has always been at the forefront of reform and opening up, has yet again held aloft the banners of deepening reform and opening its doors wider to the outside world,' the piece said.

Yu was also cited in the story as promising that Shanghai would take the lead nationally to transform its economy, which features high energy consumption, heavy pollution and an overreliance on investment, housing and labour-intensive sectors. 'This is the hope of the party central and the most essential task for Shanghai,' he said.

The article then went into lengthy detail, elaborating on the municipal government's achievements over the past five years, focusing on how Yu and Mayor Han Zheng sought to achieve unity in thinking among local cadres on key development issues such as public welfare, conservation and balancing the pace of development.

Analysts said that Yu, who turns 67 this month, was apparently favoured by the top leadership because of his relatively low profile compared with the maverick Bo, 63, who seldom hid his ambition of grabbing a top seat on the ultra-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Although analysts said it was too early to tell if Yu could be elevated to the nine-member-strong Politburo Standing Committee, they agreed that the party newspaper's praise was unusual and politically significant for the rising star.

They also noted that Vice-President Xi received similar high-profile praise from the newspaper for his work in a six-month tenure, weeks before he was promoted from the Shanghai post.

Beijing-based political analyst Hu Xingdou said the article was a clear indicator that Yu's chances of elevation had increased.

'It is fairly possible that those who have chances to win a seat on the top leadership will receive praise in similar fashion,' he said.

Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan said the lavish praise for Yu could also be seen as praise for Xi, who should also be given credit for Shanghai's achievements.

But both analysts said it was too early to say if the article was a rebuttal of Bo's Chongqing model. 'Beijing has yet to give its verdict on Bo and his Chongqing model. They have been simply left in the cold at the moment, and the party apparently wants to foster an image of unity and harmony,' Hu said.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu also cautioned that the significance of the article should not be overstated. 'Although the article sings the praises of Yu, it could also represent an official verdict on Yu before his possible imminent retirement,' Lau said.

He noted that the party newspaper, which had been used as platforms by various party factions, presented conflicting viewpoints from time to time. In January, it ran a front page article praising Bo's efforts to pursue the path of 'common prosperity', a socialist approach to redistributing social wealth.