All the President’s men

Political reshuffle continues ahead of Party Congress


New Guangdong boss: Ma Xingrui

Bushisms, or folksy faux pas from the former American leader George W Bush, probably peaked in 2002 when he said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me… you can’t get fooled again.”

Last week a senior official in Yunnan made something of a fool of himself too with a major linguistic mistake of his own during a speech.

Ruan Chengfa, the acting governor of Yunnan province, was mocked by netizens for getting the abbreviation of his own province wrong. Ruan pronounced dian as zhen twice (although to be fair, the two Chinese characters look very similar). Worse still, the error was broadcast live on state TV and a host of social media platforms.

Back in Bushland it would be the equivalent of Dubya confusing the names of two American states, such as referring to Texas-ssippi, a gaffe even he didn’t make.

“All governors have to take a basic Chinese language test before taking their jobs from now on,” an irritated netizen demanded.

Before moving to his position in Yunnan last month, Ruan had served as Party boss of Wuhan for five years, where some people have blamed him for the chronic floods that have plagued Hubei’s capital city (thousands of construction projects may have damaged the natural drainage basin: see WiC332).

Since the beginning of last year there have been more than a dozen changes of provincial Party bosses. and many of the new appointees are considered allies of Xi Jinping, according to the South China Morning Post. What seems clear is that the Chinese president is strengthening his power at the provincial level ahead of the 19th Party Congress (to be held in October or November this year, see WiC340).

The reshuffle continued apace in the last week of 2016 with the appointment of Ma Xingrui, formerly Party boss of Shenzhen, as acting governor of Guangdong province.

The elevation of Ma, an aerospace scientist from Beijing, is being viewed as another step in Xi’s campaign to tighten his grip on Guangdong. Traditionally, the leadership there has been more localised in origin. Three of the province’s five governors since 1985 were born in Guangdong and the other two ‘went native’ after spending decades working in the southern economic powerhouse (ergo all five followed the longstanding Cantonese tradition of paying lip service to the diktats from the capital and putting provincial interests first).

Meanwhile, Chongqing’s long-serving mayor Huang Qifan is also on the move. Zhang Guoqing, formerly a deputy Party boss of the mega municipality (population: more than 30 million) will take over the vacancy, reports WePolitics, a WeChat-based blogger who leaks insider gossip on Chinese politics.

Zhang and Ma, WePolitics notes, have spent most of their careers in state-owned companies and have been “parachuted in” as provincial leaders in the past three years.

Former mayor Huang is expected to be transferred to a senior post in China’s legislative body to push forward the country’s economic reforms. The political veteran has spent the past 15 years in Chongqing working under six different Party bosses, including the now disgraced Bo Xilai. He is also credited with being one of country’s most gifted technocrats, especially in urban planning, where he was the visionary who turned Shanghai’s Pudong from farmland into a financial hub.

Huang has also been praised for policies that have kept Chongqing’s real estate market more stable than many of its rival cities (see WiC344). Chongqing led all municipalities in economic growth from 2013 to 2015, the 21CN Business Herald has reported, but the city’s home prices have only grown 12% since 2012.

The newspaper also noted growing speculation that Chongqing residential real estate has been “undervalued” and that a housing boom could follow Huang’s departure to Beijing. “Already, many domestic property developers are stepping up efforts to invest in Chongqing’s housing market,” it says.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.