BEIJING Nov 12 As the senior Communist Party
official in one of China's most prosperous regions, Wang Yang is
often cast as an agent of change, a potential force for economic
and even political reform should he gain promotion to the
party's highest rung later this week.
But the chief of the southern province of Guangdong appears
to be distancing himself from that role while attending the
party congress that will usher in China's once-in-a-decade top
When Wang spoke to reporters on Friday, he stuck to a well
rehearsed script that could have come from any apparatchik.
"Because China has taken the strategic choice of reform and
opening up, every member of the Chinese Communist Party,
including myself, is a reformist - or else there would be no
today," he told reporters.
"We will follow the themes of the 18th party congress to
push for reform," he said. "As for the next steps for reform,
General Secretary Hu Jintao has already clearly stated those, so
I won't recite the report for you."
China's twice-a-decade party conclave, at which high ranking
officials make speeches and hold rare press conferences, is
providing a lesson into just how tightly the senior leadership
controls the message it wants both the Chinese people and the
outside world to hear.
At his speech at the opening of the congress on Thursday,
outgoing President Hu spoke of the need for both political and
economic reform, but stressed the Communist Party must remain in
Everyone else has since read from the same script, evidence,
political analysts said, that the party's over-arching goal
remains the same: maintaining its tight grip on power.
Wang Yang, a Hu protégé, now appears to be a long shot to
ascend to the Politburo Standing Committee. Likely to consist of
just seven members, the body will steer the world's
second-largest economy for the next five years.
Seen by many in the West as a beacon of political change,
Wang lobbied for reform in Guangdong out of concern about the
social impact of three decades of blistering development.
However, this approach drew criticism from party
conservatives and Wang has more recently adopted the party's
more familiar method of control and punishment to keep order.
But Wang would not have even made it as far as he has
without expressing fealty to a party that brooks little dissent
and no challenge to its rule.
"In the Chinese context he is a reformer, but that only
takes you so far," said Tony Saich, a China expert at Harvard's
Kennedy School of Government.
"The bottom line is all these people at heart are loyal
Communist Party members, and most of the reforms that they see
as being effective are all geared to ensuring the Communist
Party's continued rule."
The only two certainties on the standing committee to be
unveiled on Thursday are Xi Jinping, Hu's anointed successor,
and Li Keqiang, tipped to be the next Premier. Both are
considered at best cautious reformers.
One man who will probably make it onto the standing
committee has a very different reputation that does not bode
well for reform -- the dour, conservative North Korea-trained
economist Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang.
Zhang, 65, saw his chances of promotion boosted this year
when he was chosen to replace disgraced politician Bo Xilai as
party boss of the southwestern city of Chongqing.
Zhang's appearance in front of almost 100 reporters was
marked by a grave 25-minute speech in which he essentially
repeated Hu's opening address to the congress, with the turgid
and repeated use of Communist terminology.
"The whole report shone a light on the radiance of Marxism,"
Zhang said. "The entire report from start to finish showed that
we must unswervingly follow the path of socialism with Chinese
Yu Zhengsheng, Shanghai's party boss, is also viewed as a
contender for promotion, and considered at least open to reform
by virtue of running China's financial hub and most cosmopolitan
But Yu was mostly silent during an open "discussion" session
of Hu's speech. When he finally answered a reporter's question
on what he thought the most urgent political reform China needed
to undertake, Yu was extremely cautious.
"Comrade Jintao's report raised paying more attention to
making improvements to the way the party leads and guides the
way, paying more attention to the building of democratic
politics, paying more attention to the construction of rule of
law," he said.
"These are the main points and direction of political system
reform in the future. Done. Thank you."
Yu and Zhang did at least appear in front of the foreign
media. Li Yuanchao, widely viewed as a reform-minded candidate
for promotion, did not. Li, 61, oversees the appointment of
senior party, government, military and state-owned enterprise
officials as head of the party's powerful organisation
He has courted foreign investment and studied in the United
States. Analysts are closely watching what happens to him this
week as a sign of which way China's new leadership is likely
"A much better indicator for reform will be (Li's) fate. He
has implemented some political and administrative changes that
were pretty radical by China's standards, and advocated for even
more serious reform," said Duncan Innes-Ker, senior China
analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Even if Li or Wang Yang don't make it onto the standing
committee this time, they are, by Chinese standards, young
enough that they may make the grade at the next congress in five
years time, when the likes of Zhang and Yu will have to retire.
"My understanding is that (Li's) going to be made vice
president and that gives him a status which is superior to the
other regular politburo members, with an unconfirmed promise
that he'll get in next in five years time," said Saich, the
expert at Harvard, of Li Yuanchao.
"I think the understanding is that Wang Yang has a good shot
in five years' time as well."