Sichuan successes make party secretary Liu Qibao a shining star
Sichuan party secretary Liu Qibao's stellar performance and efficiency in rebuilding the quake-stricken province may be his key to the Politburo
Just six months into his job as Communist Party chief of the western Sichuan province, Liu Qibao had to co-ordinate its recovery from one of the country's biggest natural disasters in 60 years.
Today, four years after the devastating magnitude 8 earthquake that killed more than 86,000 people in Sichuan, Liu can boast of his achievements in the province. Reconstruction work was completed last year - a year earlier than expected - and Sichuan's annual economic output has doubled to two trillion yuan.
Liu's successes in Sichuan have political analysts viewing him as a rising star, possibly destined for promotion to the powerful Politburo at the party's national congress this year or being put in charge of the country's propaganda machine as head of the party's publicity department.
Liu, 59, had spent seven years in charge of propaganda for various agencies and was once the party mouthpiece People's Daily's deputy chief editor.
Professor Ding Lin, a political scientist at Sichuan Agricultural University, said Liu was the best writer among the current crop of provincial party secretaries. "He writes a lot in the Economic Daily and Seeking Truth," he said. "His words are simple but very insightful and show a profound grasp of theory."
The media savvy Liu is also one of the few party officials to use new media to reach out to residents. He once told his subordinates to prepare for the changes to be brought about by the internet and ordered government agencies to respond to internet users' comments on a regular basis.
Liu graduated from Anhui Normal University in 1974, at the age of 21, with a history degree. He obtained a master's degree in economics in 1993.
His first job was in the theory study office of the propaganda department of Anhui's provincial party committee. He later became a secretary in the provincial party committee's general office, working for reformist party secretary Wan Li.
Wan, whose liberal yet practical attitude is believed to have had an influence on Liu, pushed through a contract responsibility system that allowed farmers to divide communal land and work it individually. They were allowed to sell surplus produce independently and the practice later spread across the country.
In 1980, Liu was put in charge of propaganda at the Anhui committee of the Communist Youth League, and three years later, aged just 30, he became the committee's secretary.
In 1985, he was promoted to secretary of the Youth League's central committee - party general secretary Hu Jintao's powerbase - working alongside current Vice-Premier Li Keqiang , before joining the People's Daily as deputy chief editor for a year in August 1993. He then spent six years as the State Council's deputy secretary-general.
Liu has said his 13 years in the Youth League boosted his career. "Working in the Youth League … made us understand the common people better," he said.
Liu's political career took an important turn in 2000 when he was appointed deputy party secretary of Guangxi. When he became the autonomous region's party chief six years later, he promoted co-operation with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asian nations in a bid to boost the industrial backwater's economy, and also worked on improving government efficiency and the urban environment.
At the end of 2007 when then Sichuan party secretary Du Qinglin was made head of the party's United Front Work department, Liu was named his successor.
Unlike most newly appointed party secretaries who typically take at least half a year to come up with a development blueprint, Liu produced one for Sichuan within a month, said Yi Peng, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission. It focused on building up the province's industrial capacity and modernising agricultural production.
The massive quake that rocked Sichuan on May 12, 2008, just six months after Liu took office, gave him the chance to shine, Yi said. "The earthquake brought enormous pain to Sichuan, but as the wound healed, economic … rebound has been quite extraordinary," he said.
The quake made Sichuan an early benefactor of what became known as the mainland's 4 trillion yuan stimulus package - a response to the global financial crisis. In 2010, just two years after the disaster, the province's economic output surpassed that of Shanghai, ranking eighth on the mainland.
But Beijing Foreign Studies University's journalism professor Zhan Jiang said that even if Liu were promoted to propaganda chief, he was likely to act on the orders of Liu Yunshan, the party's current propaganda chief, who has been tipped for promotion to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
Zhan said few officials were willing to show any individuality as it could threaten their political survival, and Liu was more likely to be a follower and enforcer of his bosses' orders.
"Don't count on any individual official to bring changes to this political system," Zhan said.