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China's Communist Party

Why is Xi Jinping giving Guangdong a rare thumbs-up ahead of China’s power reshuffle?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 April, 2017, 10:46am

The Guangdong Communist Party chief’s chances of advancement this year have been given a shot in the arm with President Xi Jinping giving his “full endorsement” to the southern province’s work over the last five years.

Guangdong party boss Hu Chunhua, who now sits on the 25-member Politburo, is seen as a strong contender for a seat on its Standing Committee, the party’s innermost circle of power, at the 19th national party congress in the autumn.

In an “important instruction” issued on April 4, Xi “fully endorsed various work in Guangdong since the 18th party congress”, provincial party mouthpiece Nanfang Daily reported on Wednesday.

Just two days after Xi’s instruction, Hu made a high-profile trip to Wukan, a village at the centre of a crackdown on grass-roots democracy. The trip, analysts said, was to draw attention to his loyalty and hardline stand.

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Under Hu’s watch, the authorities suppressed protests stemming from a land dispute in Wukan in September, firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

The village first made international headlines in 2011, when the long-running land dispute triggered pitched battles between police and residents.

In his instruction, Xi said he hoped Guangdong could abide by the party’s leadership and “reform and opening up” policies, support national economic restructuring, innovation and the creation of a new open economic system.

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Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Xi’s instruction showed Guangdong’s economic development was a high priority, especially given its inclusion in a national plan for a Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.

“If Hu wants to secure his chance for higher office, he would definitely try very hard to implement and achieve the requests Xi has made for Guangdong … It will become a key basis of assessment for him,”Lau said.

Chen Daoyin, a political analyst from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Xi’s instruction could be both approval of and a test for Hu’s political career.

“The general secretary’s endorsement of a province’s work is significant as a [political] weather vane, especially at such a politically sensitive time. But his requests, raised as ‘hopes’, could also imply inadequacies in the province’s work,” Chen said. “Guangdong spearheaded the reform and opening up of China in both economic and political terms but in recent years its leading role has waned.”

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Gestures from top leaders to provinces overseen by contenders for promotion have long been weighted with political meaning.

Xi’s trip to Chongqing early last year was seen at the time as approval of its party chief, Sun Zhengcai, also a Politburo member and Standing Committee front runner.

But Sun’s prospects seemed to dim after top graft-busters criticised city leaders for not doing enough to eradicate the “pernicious legacy” of the city’s former party boss Bo Xilai, a rival to Xi in the lead-up to the last leadership transition.