Chinese ‘liberal’ Wang Yang considered possible prime minister as reshuffle looms

HONG KONG, Oct 12 (Reuters) – When Wang Yang was the Chinese Communist Party boss of economic powerhouse Guangdong province, the man now seen as a leading contender for China’s next premier posted a less visible liberal trend since Xi Jinping came to power.

While in Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, Wang made his mark pushing an upgrade of rusty industries and touting socially inclusive policies.

In a stalemate over land grabbing in Wukan village in late 2011, Wang sacked corrupt officials and allowed protest leaders to stand in popular elections the following spring, winning international acclaim.

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However, some of these liberal-minded movements in Guangdong were later scaled back or abandoned under Wang’s watch, with new restrictions placed on media and civil society, including labor groups after Xi became leader. ten years ago and set China on an increasingly authoritarian path. .

Wang, 67, is considered one of the best candidates to be nominated to succeed Li Keqiang when Li leaves his post in March as supervisor of the world’s second-largest economy.

While the post of prime minister ranks second in the leadership hierarchy, it appears to have become less influential as Xi consolidated his own power and imposed a tighter state grip on economic management. Xi is expected to break with precedent by securing a third five-year term as head of the Communist Party Congress starting Oct. 16.

Self-taught who worked in a food factory as a teenager to support his single mother and family, Wang is said to have later caught the eye of former Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping and formed close ties with the former president. Hu Jintao.

In person, according to some who have met him, Wang is confident and charismatic. He preferred to leave his hair gray instead of dyeing it jet black like other rulers.

In an informal meeting with reporters in Guangzhou more than a decade ago, Wang made unscripted, sometimes humorous, remarks on a wide range of topics. It was a style that contrasted with the stiffer public persona typically adopted by senior party leaders, who these days rarely, if ever, interact with foreign media.

During a meeting with then-US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in 2013, Wang made a joke about same-sex marriage and said that China and the United States could not afford divorce as media magnate Rupert Murdoch and his then wife, Chinese Wendi. Deng, because the price would be “too high”.

“He is undoubtedly the most liberal in the entire Politburo,” Willy Lam, a China scholar and assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Reuters.

Wang was not promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012, but as deputy premier he helped oversee China’s foreign economic relations, including with the United States.

In 2017, he was promoted to the party’s highest governing body, where he ranks fourth among seven members. He is also chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a political advisory body.

YOUTH LEAGUE

Like Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Hu Chunhua – another candidate for prime minister – Wang has ties to the Communist Youth League, a faction seen as a rival to Xi.

However, some party observers say Wang has earned Xi’s trust after keeping a low profile and loyally serving alongside him on the standing committee for the past five years.

In recent years under Xi, Wang has apparently tempered his reformist tendencies, echoing the party’s hard line on sensitive political issues such as Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet, while expressing support for Xi.

As head of the CPPCC, Wang led a political group on the western region of Xinjiang, where up to a million ethnic Muslims were held in mass camps.

Ahead of a May visit to Xinjiang by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that was widely criticized by rights groups and Western governments, Wang said ethnic Muslim groups now live in “the happiness and security,” according to official Xinhua information. agency.

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Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Tony Munroe and Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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