Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua has shown flexibility in resolving the crisis at the outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper, following the approach of his predecessor in tackling emergencies, analysts said.
The week-long confrontation between the newspaper's journalists and the provincial propaganda authorities over alterations to the new year edition was temporarily resolved on Tuesday night as the editorial staff agreed to resume work.
Two sources close to the newspaper's editorial staff said the crisis was resolved as Hu had stepped in to mediate, striking a deal between the newspaper and the propaganda office.
"Hu only offered some basic principles to end the row, which included editors and reporters getting back to work and no punishment would be handed down to journalists. The newspaper will be published as usual tomorrow," said a source.
Hu did not make any public comment about the crisis, but he was involved in talks which also involved provincial propaganda chief Tuo Zhen .
The saga has attracted widespread attention on the mainland and scores of supporters of the newspaper gathered at its headquarters over the past few days. Yesterday, some supporters had several brief scuffles with Communist Party loyalists.
Political observers said that by not cracking down on protestors and striking a deal with the journalists, Hu established himself as an open-minded politician who was capable of defusing a crisis.
"This will shed positive light on his political career," said political commentator Zhang Lifan . "He will gain popularity with such approaches, showing himself able to face changes."
Observers said the Southern Weekly crisis could be reminiscent of how Hu's predecessor Wang Yang tackled the Wukan village crisis last year.
Villagers staged strong rallies against land acquisition and tensions escalated to the point where a party official accused the protesters of "colluding with foreign media to cause trouble".
But the tensions eased after Wang allowed democratic elections in the village.
"The Southern Weekly crisis can be solved when both sides take a step back," said Zhang Ming , a political scientist at Renmin University. "Instead of taking a tough-line approach, Hu uses a soft hand."
But observers said it was unclear whether it was Hu, or the central propaganda authorities, who had the final say.
A source at a Beijing-based media group said central propaganda officials had told mainland editors that some "external forces" were behind the saga, a classification that may lead to a crackdown.
A source at a Beijing tertiary institution was told by its party secretary that some "hostile forces" were behind the crisis.
"The central authority is still very alert," the source said. "But it allows Hu to handle the matter softly as Guangdong is known for opening up and a tough approach there may trigger more backlashes."
Sources close to the paper's editorial staff said journalists still feared retaliation and no decision had been made on whether the paper needed to submit its articles for authorities approval before publication.
Tuo and his deputy Yang Jian, , who is also party secretary of the Nanfang Media Group, and the paper's chief editor, Huang Can are still in office. It is not known whether an investigation into the incident will be launched.