BEIJING (Reuters) - From factory boss to Shanghai Communist Party boss, Chinese parliament chief Wu Bangguo’s rise up the ranks has been shaped by his ties to the country’s financial hub and most cosmopolitan city.
Part of the so-called Shanghai gang, or leaders whose careers blossomed in China’s commercial capital, Wu is known to be a close ally of Jiang Zemin, who though retired, still wields considerable influence.
As titular head of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, Wu is number two in the Communist Party hierarchy, just behind President Hu Jintao but above Premier Wen Jiabao. He is expected to retain his seat as the Party holds its 17th Congress this week.
At one point, Wu, 66, was mooted as a possible successor to then-Premier Zhu Rongji, but analysts said the straight-talking Zhu favored Wen.
Still, as parliament head, Wu has presided over a few landmark and unusually contentious laws, including one on property rights that was postponed for a year after critics warned it would undermine China’s socialist principles.
Under his watch, parliament also passed an Anti-Secession Law, which mandated military force if self-ruled, democratic Taiwan declares formal independence. China claims the island as its own.
A radio engineer by training, Wu was front man for state-owned enterprise reform, one of China’s most thankless tasks — trimming fat from bloated firms while trying to minimize resultant labor protests.
Wu, from impoverished rural Anhui province, had to walk a political tightrope, laying off millions to turn backward state firms into commercially viable concerns, but remained unflappable.
Wu attended Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University from 1960-67, earning a degree in radio engineering. He then worked for almost a decade at a Shanghai factory before becoming a close aide of Jiang and Zhu when he was appointed the city’s deputy Party secretary.
Wu was promoted to city Party boss in 1991, then one of the youngest party secretaries at the provincial level. He was named to the Party’s elite Politburo in 1992 and dived into industry reforms in fields such as telecommunications and energy.
Over the past few years, Wu has embarked on numerous whistle-stop tours to far-flung places from Europe to the Middle East. Back home, he received visiting chief executives of multinationals from Motorola to Rolls-Royce.
On the international stage, he has perhaps been most visible in the past year or so in his stern comments on Hong Kong, the former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
“Hong Kong’s administrative autonomy is not intrinsic...it is granted by the central government,” Wu said in a June speech to senior Hong Kong officials.
“How much authority the central government grants to Hong Kong is precisely how much authority (Hong Kong) will get,” he added.
But he has also taken a more pragmatic line with the United States, increasingly worried about China’s growing political and economic might.
“What’s most important is that we have much more in common than what separates us, and we have established mechanisms to address our differences”, Wu told a group of visiting U.S. politicians in April.
“The growth of bilateral ties should not be undermined by differences on some specific issues.”