18th Party Congress

Liaoning's Communist Party secretary Wang Min eyes his Politburo prize

Wang Min eschews tedious speeches, preferring to get the job done. But critics say his friends in high places, not his ability, are behind his rise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 10:24am

Liaoning's Communist Party secretary, Wang Min , responded to 34 online petition letters in July, a show of sympathy for public concerns that has become normal practice for provincial leaders keen to ease social tensions and maintain stability.

One was a complaint about the low compensation that Panjin's city government was offering for farmland being requisitioned for road construction. In his response, published on the People's Daily website, Wang said the amount offered was reasonable and had been accepted by most of those affected.

Two months later, on September 21, a policeman shot dead a 36-year-old Panjin farmer who was trying to stop two bulldozers from destroying his rice field.

Fierce criticism erupted online, with many questioning the use of lethal force. Panjin prosecutors said the farmer was armed with an axe and sickle and had threatened the officer's life. The officer fired six shots, injuring the farmer's parents.

However, political analysts said it was too minor a scandal to derail 62-year-old Wang's expected promotion to the powerful Politburo at the party's upcoming national congress.

After serving as governor or party chief of two rust-belt northeastern provinces - first Jilin and then Liaoning - for about eight years, Wang is seen as a key contributor in the revival of old industrial bases. Before his transfer to Liaoning in November 2009, Wang had spent time in charge of the affluent city of Suzhou , in Jiangsu , and the agricultural and industrial hinterland province of Jilin.

Building on the economic expertise he acquired in both, he even coined a new phrase to describe his vision for Liaoning's development - industrial thickness - emphasising both moving up the industrial value chain and exploring new trade opportunities.

The concept seems to have earned central government recognition, being featured in Economy and Nation Weekly, an economic magazine published by Xinhua, in May last year.

And in August this year, a special report in the People's Daily lauded Liaoning's economic transformation in the past decade. Output reached 2.2 trillion yuan (HK$2.69 trillion) last year, more than quadruple the 500 billion yuan in 2001, with growth averaging 12 per cent a year.

Wang is usually depicted in media reports as a practical technocrat, reluctant to make the tedious speeches that are the staple of most mainland bureaucrats. He prefers to publish short articles, keep speeches brief and avoid issuing official documents whenever possible, according to Economy and Nation Weekly.

"Rather, he focuses on the implementation of existing development strategies, and he attaches high importance to execution and the outcome," it said.

However, a veteran journalist who has good connections with senior officials in the northeast said Wang did not stand out from other officials in terms of ability or achievement.

"Wang is not an outstanding politician himself," he said. "If he gets into the Politburo, it will be thanks to his connections with more senior leaders, connections built when he was in Jiangsu."

Wang started his climb up the political ladder in 1994, when he was made assistant to the governor of Jiangsu, and became a vice-governor of the province two years later.

In May 2002, he became party chief of Suzhou, a booming city of industrial parks and foreign joint ventures that the media dubbed a "cradle for governors". He spent less than 30 months in Suzhou, but it proved to be critical, because he got to know then Jiangsu party chief Li Yuanchao, who is now in charge of the party's Organisation Department - which makes key appointments.

They reportedly got along so well that Li recommended Wang for promotion to deputy party chief of Jilin in 2004.

In Jilin, Wang spearheaded swift and bold reforms of state-owned enterprises. Within a year, he managed to finish the task of privatising 816 enterprises and shed about one million jobs, with most people being offered early retirement, Xinhua reported. But his policy prescription was not without flaws. Thousands of workers protested at the province's largest iron and steel plant in July 2009, opposing a takeover deal. One person died in rioting that followed.

Months later, Wang was transferred to neighbouring Liaoning province, a move that analysts said was aimed at protecting his political career.

"The protest dealt a blow to Wang," the veteran journalist said. "But moving to Liaoning also gave Wang the chance to whitewash his policy failures. The transfer shows that Wang is under the protection of some higher-level officials."

Wang was born in coal-rich Huainan in Anhui . He worked at a local chemical and mechanical factory for three years before being admitted to a coal industry college in 1975. He obtained a master's degree in machinery manufacturing in Beijing, then completed his doctorate at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in the mid-1980s. Wang taught at the university, becoming a professor in 1990, at 40, and vice-chancellor two years later. From 1987 to 1989 he was a visiting scholar at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.