18th Party Congress

Rigidity may cost Heilongjiang party secretary promotion into Politburo

Heilongjiang's unpopular provincial party secretary Ji Bingxuan probably won't make it into the Politburo, observers say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 1:42pm

The recent collapse of an approach ramp on a new, 1.8 billion yuan bridge in Harbin , Heilongjiang , could be the final blow to provincial party secretary Ji Bingxuan's hopes of promotion to the Communist Party's Politburo.

Ji , 61, has never been particularly popular to begin with, and the widespread criticism of shoddy construction standards caused his popularity to dip even further ahead of the party's 18th national congress.

A former editor of a major Shanghai newspaper said Ji was known for his "rigidity" in his previous role as censor-in-chief and was not well liked by his staff.

A veteran Hong Kong-based journalist described him as "a very careful person" who would "deliberately avoid discussing sensitive topics".

"He never touched on any political or economic topics," he said. "Throughout the entire dinner, he only talked about tourism, dining … He is a very cautious person when it comes to allowing any question-and-answer opportunities to journalists."

Ji is best known for leading a ruthless, iron-fisted crackdown on press freedom when he served as executive deputy director of the party's publicity department from 2001 to 2008. But although he made many enemies among prominent mainland journalists, his strong ties in Beijing have seen some overseas media depict him as a rising star.

At the publicity department, Ji worked under Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun and Politburo member Liu Yunshan . While serving as the department's main media censor, he was directly in charge of several controversial cases, including the shutting down of the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Herald in 2003, the arrest of two former editors and a former general manager of The Southern Metropolis News in 2004, and the temporary closure of the China Youth Daily's outspoken weekly Bingdian (Freezing Point) supplement in 2006.

Media reports in 2007 said Bingdian editor Li Datong filed a complaint against Ji to the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, saying that the decision to suspend the supplement's publication was groundless and unlawful.

Five years on, Li believes that Ji's chances of joining the Politburo are slim.

"When it comes to possible Politburo candidates, only party secretaries from regions with outstanding economic achievements, such as Guangdong or Shanghai, and those with unique characteristics, such as turbulent Xinjiang, would have a chance," he said.

"There is nothing outstanding about Heilongjiang in recent years and Ji himself enjoys no reputation within the party."

Veteran journalist Cheng Yizhong , co-founder and former chief editor of both The Southern Metropolis News and The Beijing News, described Ji as an "extreme-leftist, mediocre and cruel" official.

"He stands zero opportunity of any kind of promotion," Cheng said. "He is a poor administrator who excelled only at cracking down on free speech at all costs … to maintain social stability.

"He is ruthless, very cruel and old-fashioned. People like him should all be eliminated from the new generation of leaders."

A veteran Beijing-based Xinhua journalist expressed similar sentiments. "Ji stands a very small chance for the Politburo," he said.

"Coming from a background of being in charge of propaganda no longer makes him an ideal candidate. Propaganda is outdated … and his area of expertise headed down a wrong track a long time ago.

"We can also tell by his lack of public appearances. If a politician is getting a promotion, he or she would get plenty of opportunities to meet and greet the public. Clearly, Ji is not one of them."

In August, the People's Daily published a series of special reports heaping praise on the economic successes of certain regions, a move which analysts said was aimed at helping their party chiefs secure promotion at the party congress.

Two of the three northeastern provinces, Liaoning and Jilin , featured in the series, but Heilongjiang did not.

Ji got along well with his former bosses in the publicity department, with party sources saying he owed his promotion to provincial party secretary partly to their support.

A party source said that although Ji and his superior, Li Changchun, belonged to different political factions, they had an amiable relationship, with Ji accompanying Li wherever he travelled at home and abroad for five years.

Ji also has a background in the Communist Youth League, the main power base of party general secretary Hu Jintao , and has even been described as Hu's right-hand man on propaganda and media matters during his time in the publicity department.

In 2008, he was promoted to the post of Heilongjiang party chief, replacing Qian Yunlu , but has maintained a relatively low profile since compared to his earlier controversial work at the publicity department.

Ji graduated from Zhengzhou University's department of Chinese in 1978 and became a party member two years later while working as a high school teacher in Mingjin county, Henan .

From there, he served as party secretary in the rural grass-roots governments of Chaoyang village and Yanshi county before winning his first major political appointment in 1987 as the Communist Youth League's deputy secretary in Henan.

Ji headed Jilin province's publicity department from 1995 until he was transferred to Beijing in 1998 as deputy head of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

In 2001, he was made the department's deputy director and in 2003, was made executive deputy director in charge of propaganda and media affairs.