Xi Jinping

Analysts look for clues in leaders' family albums

The release of personal photos shows party chiefs in a new light. Could it be the start of a campaign to make them declare their assets? Opinion is divided

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2012, 8:41am

The release of personal photographs and profiles of the Communist Party's top leaders is being seen as a step towards increased openness. But analysts are divided about whether it represents a starting point for reforms that will require officials to declare their own and families' personal assets.

In the latest salvo in a charm offensive dating back to mid-November, the seven members of the party's new Politburo Standing Committee gave the public a rare glimpse of their personal and family lives, with state media releasing photographs and details of their families, breaking the long-held taboo that such information is a state secret. For three days from Sunday, the state-run Xinhua news agency released collections of photos of the seven men, including party general secretary and president-in-waiting Xi Jinping and premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang. The profiles chronicled the men's careers, from their early days working at the grass roots, with rare snapshots that traced their jobs and family lives.

Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a China watcher and commentator, said the charm offensive was designed to make the leaders "look more human, down-to-earth and closer to the people".

"The photo release shows the new leaders' determination to win the hearts and minds of the people," Lau added.

Ma Guoxian , a political affairs analyst at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said: "The purpose of the photos was to portray the leaders as ordinary people, as common, in an effort to narrow the distance between them, the rulers, and the ruled."

The profiles were the first time state media mentioned Xi's and Li's family members, including Xi's folk-singer wife, Peng Liyuan , and their daughter, and Li's wife Cheng Hong , a professor of English at Capital University of Economics and Business, and their daughter. The reports failed to mention that both men's daughters are studying in the United States, with Xi's daughter at Harvard.

Gu Su , a political analyst and professor of constitutional law at Nanjing University, said the reports were designed to quell anger at officials' corruption and ill-gotten gains.

Two investigative reports - one by Bloomberg on the wealth of Xi's family members, and the other by The New York Times on the riches of the family of Premier Wen Jiabao - made headlines outside the mainland recently.

Analysts said leaders' families' assets were likely to come under greater scrutiny following the reports.

While analysts have welcomed the release of the profiles and photographs for promoting transparency, some cautioned against over-interpreting the move as an indicator of leaders' determination to introduce meaningful change, including moving to require officials to declare their and their families' personal assets.

"The latest development, in addition to the changes introduced earlier by the new leadership, has raised hopes for meaningful reform of the system of governance, such as the publication of officials' personal and family assets in a transparent and accountable way," Gu said.

"I am convinced that at least Xi and Li want to set an example for junior officials to follow, to pave the way for the eventual introduction of a mechanism for officials to publicise and declare personal and family assets."

But Lau was sceptical, saying the photographs were more of a "public relations charm offensive" than anything else.

"I don't see it as indicating any real change in the foreseeable future, such as the declaration of leaders' family assets, or any other reform that would promote transparent governance."