Wang Qishan

Can problem-solver Wang Qishan get the job done on graft?

New head of party's discipline commission is a troubleshooter who gets results, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 11:57am

In Chinese politics, it is believed that a leader's personality and wisdom can help change the course of history, but that such qualities are not always enough.

Thus many believe the appointment of Wang Qishan to head the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection could usher in some significant changes. Corruption is widely seen as having worsened over the past decade, becoming a main source of disaffection with the ruling party.

Wang's personality and wisdom could be why the party leadership under new general secretary Xi Jinping chose to assign the vice-premier the task of handling internal party discipline, instead of giving the reformist leader a key economic portfolio.

"I think it is possible that the new leaders want one of their problem-solvers to tackle one of the most difficult and stubborn issues," said Gu Su, a law professor at Nanjing University.

Analysts said Wang's no-nonsense working style, his decisive manner and his problem-solving skills would help the party leadership bolster its disciplinary apparatus in the wake of the scandal surrounding former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai .

"With a reputation as a troubleshooter, his appointment indicates that the newly installed Communist Party leadership is planning to step up its fight against official corruption," said Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a veteran China-watcher.

Lau said Wang had a reputation for getting things done amid two decades of important postings in central agencies and regional governments.

Wang, deputy governor of the central bank and then president of state-owned China Construction Bank in the early to mid-1990s, has tackled some tricky political problems, going on to become deputy governor of Guangdong in 1998, director of the State Council's Office for Economic Restructuring in 2000 and party chief of Hainan province in 2000. He was parachuted into Beijing as acting mayor during the crisis over severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003. As vice-premier he was in charge of China's finance sector and foreign economic relations, dealing with the United States on a range of tough trade and currency issues.

"Looking back at his track record in Guangdong, Hainan and Beijing, one believes that he will bring some big changes - whatever his portfolio requires," Lau said.

Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, who identified Wang as a rising star in a newspaper commentary in 1994, said he had demonstrated the ability to take leadership of complex situations and guide them to acceptable conclusions.

Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said: "For some big cases, he might make a change."

Analysts said Wang had the confidence to take action thanks to his strong connections and his "princeling" background.

His father was a Shanxi party chief and his father-in-law, the late Yao Yilin, was a vice-premier. Wang is also known to be close to former president Jiang Zemin and former premier Zhu Rongji. Analysts said Wang would also be backed by Xi, another princeling.

"He will definitely prove himself to be more capable and make more noise than his predecessors, such as He Guoqiang ," Lau said.

But academics also warned that the fight against graft would go nowhere without fundamental reform of the authoritarian, one-party system, because relying on the anti-corruption commission in a non-transparent process would never work.

"At the moment the system is doomed to corruption - as long as you have the party as its own judge and jury," Brown said. "With the amount of money being generated now within the elite and the huge amount of vested interests around them, it would take a massive political effort to clean all this up."

Steve Tsang, director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, said the problem of corruption was systemic and the top leadership as a whole needed to be prepared to pay the price to tackle it.

"Just one of them cannot do it; too many vested interests are at stake," Tsang said.

Zhang Lifan, a political analyst, said an effective anti-graft system could only be built after meaningful political reform to end the one-party system and the party's monopoly on resources, state assets and the media. He said such political reform fell within the powers of the party's Politburo and supreme Politburo Standing Committee.