18th Party Congress

Shrewd Lu Zhangong earned his stripes advancing Fujian and Henan

Lu Zhangong made his name by turning some of Beijing's more ambitious ideas - such attracting development to inland provinces - into reality

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 2:52pm

Lu Zhangong has two nicknames - "Lu Haixi" and "Lu Zhongyuan" - references to two of his signal achievements as he worked his way up the party hierarchy in the past eight years, first as party chief of Fujian and now Henan.

In a sign of his political shrewdness and a testament to his reputation as an economic reformer, Lu successfully lobbied the central government to set up the "Haixi" (Western Taiwan Strait) Economic Zone in Fujian and the Zhongyuan (Central Plains) Economic Zone in Henan as key components of the country's five-year plans. He won much praise for positioning the two areas as China's next high-growth regions.

Lu, 60, began his career in rural areas but went on to hold key positions in several provinces, including Zhejiang and Hebei as well as Fujian and Henan. He also served a three-year stint leading the All-China Federation of Trade Unions in Beijing and enjoyed a short but close working relationship with Xi Jinping in Fujian in the early 2000s.

By 2004, he had begun to develop his own style of governing - a high-profile political star in front of the media and an effective and aggressive reformist skilled at quickly turning around a province's fortunes.

"Lu is a politically smart guy. When he took charge of Fujian, he built very good relationships with media from Hong Kong and overseas, let them publicise himself and the pet projects he launched," one Fujian-based journalist said. "To rely on Hong Kong media was a new and refreshing approach to catch the eye of the central leadership."

Shi Pu , an academic based in Henan called Lu a "talented party chief".

"He's changed and improved Henan's image a lot in the past two years," Shi said. "But he's also aggressive and seeks fame. To cater to Lu, local media carry many colourful stories about his achievements and personality."

Born in 1952 in Cixi , Zhejiang, Lu joined the Communist Party in 1975. Like many current senior party cadres, he was among the generation of "educated youths" who were sent to work in the countryside - in his case, Heilongjiang - during the Cultural Revolution. Lu went to college in the late 1970s, when higher education resumed in the mainland after a decade of political turmoil.

Lu's political career started in Zhejiang. He was named deputy party head of Jiaxing in 1988 and head of its discipline commission. One year later, he was promoted to city party head.

Lu went on to become deputy head of the Zhejiang party's organisation department in 1991. A year later he he became its director and a member of the standing committee of the party in Zhejiang. A year later, he became deputy party head in Zhejiang and head of the province's organisation department. In 1996, he became deputy head of Hebei.

The epitome of the hard-working, pragmatic Zhejiang native, Lu was, like many of the nation's emerging leaders at that time, young and educated, with experience gained from working his way up through the ranks.

From 1998 to 2000, he was deputy chairman of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, secretary of its secretariat and deputy secretary of its party group.

In January 2001, he was appointed deputy secretary of the party in Fujian, and became vice governor and then acting governor of the southeastern province in October 2002. He was confirmed as its governor three months later. In February 2004 he became acting secretary of the Fujian party committee, and in December of that year resigned as governor of Fujian to become the the province's party chief.

In 2003, Lu first unveiled the "west coast brand" in the provincial legislature. Under his plan, Fujian was to be known as part of the "economic zone on the west coast of the strait", an entity encompassing nine cities in Fujian and 11 cities in neighbouring Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Guangdong.

The central government approved. The west coast idea implies the existence of a zone on the eastern side of the strait - Taiwan. By positioning Fujian as part of an economic region embracing Taiwan, Lu played to the central government's strategy of using economic integration to entice Taiwan towards reunification with the mainland.

Three years later, in January 2006, President Hu Jintao visited Fujian and sealed the deal. In March, development of the west coast zone was stated as a national goal in China's new five-year plan, an endorsement that was vital for both Fujian and Lu.

In December 2009, Lu arrived in Henan, and once more started to forge another national-goal "economic zone". In August 2010, Lu lured Foxconn, the world's biggest electronics contractor, to build a factory in Zhengzhou , the provincial capital, which by early this year employed 130,000 people and is projected eventually to provide jobs for 300,000.

Local media lauded it as a great example of Henan's success in implementing Beijing's plan to move labour-intensive factories away from polluted and crowded coastal areas to the vast interior.

More than 180 industrial parks have been set up across Henan, some costing a billion yuan or more. Official figures show Henan attracted 12.3 billion yuan (HK$15 billion) of investment from coastal provinces in January, 2010; 22.5 billion yuan in February and 26 billion yuan in June.

The outline for the Zhongyuan (Central Plains) Economic Region was approved earlier this year at Henan's annual meeting of lawmakers. The plan, which now has the status of a national strategy, will begin this year.

Lu has been a major force behind the plan, saying it brought a "new type of urbanisation, industrialisation and agricultural modernisation" to the province. The party boss wants to raise the proportion of Henan's population living in urban areas to 50 per cent over the next five years, which will mean moving two million people off the land and into towns and cities each year.

Shi, the Henan-based economist, said: "I'm worried Henan authorities are fervent admirers of Foxconn but are ignoring the need to protect agriculture and improve farmers' livelihoods. Farmers' land has been taken over to build industrial parks. But many of these will prove to be redundant projects. Lu is under pressure to raise farmers' incomes at the same time as guaranteeing grain production. His task is made more difficult by a shortage of land."

He added: "The province's urbanisation and industrialisation target requires converting more than 53,000 hectares of agricultural land per year, while Henan can only realistically offer 13,000 hectares each year. "I think the Zhongyuan Economic Region is good for Henan to compete against neighbouring provinces. But I hope it doesn't descend into another example of abuse of land and tax revenue."