All Eyes on New Guangdong Party Chief, Hu Chunhua

Among a slew of other new appointments this week, Xinhua reported that Hu Jintao protégé “Little Hu” Chunhua is to be the new Party chief of Guangdong province. His time at the helm of the economic powerhouse is likely to pave the way for national leadership in the future.

Hu Chunhua has been appointed secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), replacing Wang Yang, the CPC Central Committee announced Tuesday.

Wang Jun will replace Hu as secretary of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regional Committee of the CPC, according to the announcement.

Hu, born in April 1963, is currently a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. Wang Yang is also a Political Bureau member.

Hu previously served as deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee of the CPC, first secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Youth League of China Central Committee and governor of north China’s Hebei Province.

At the South China Morning Post, Mimi Lau described a range of views on Hu’s appointment and prospects:

Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a labour rights NGO in Shenzhen, said Hu lacked the track record of outstanding political achievements necessary to impress Guangdong officials.

“After spending extensive time in remote inland areas, Hu might find it hard to fit in at first in Guangdong, especially when dealing with vested interests,” Liu said. “I’m not very sure about officials from remote regions because they often appear very conservative and arrogant, but Hu might be different because he’s young.”

[…] Dr Peng Peng, a researcher with the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said Hu would have to hunker down after arriving in Guangdong because it was unlike any other mainland region.

“The press here is outspoken and the public can often complain directly to leaders,” Peng said. “In order to do a good job in Guangdong, Hu needs to be even more open-minded than Wang Yang.

“Wang Yang laid a solid foundation. Hu is much younger than Wang. I’m guessing Hu is more likely to flow with the open atmosphere in Guangdong.”

But at The Diplomat, David Cohen sounded a cautious note on the prospects for bold reform:

A Guangdong posting will give “Little Hu” a chance to burnish his reformist credentials, like Wang Yang before him. If Xi follows through on his talk of reform, that may prove to be a valuable skill. Guangdong is China’s most liberal province and frequently given to experimentation — if Xi is looking for models for national reform the leader of Guangdong may get some chances to influence the direction of national policy with some inventive provincial initiatives, such as Wang Yang’s much-ballyhooed “Wukan model.”

This trend should also give us some pause before rooting for Wang or Hu as reformers — neither of their records shows particularly bold action before traveling to Guangdong, so to some extent Wang’s liberal policies in the southern province may simply reflect institutional momentum. In fact, besides his time in Tibet, Little Hu initiated a harsh crackdown at the first signs of protests in Inner Mongolia in the spring of 2011. Some felt Hu had overreacted but he did not shirk from his decision, recently telling the Financial Times, “When we deal with mass incidents, there is no question we will take compulsory measures . . . We will be tough when we need to be tough, and we will be soft when we need to be soft.”

Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee outlined Hu’s earlier career:

In Inner Mongolia, Hu Chunhua, also known as “Little Hu”, has been referred to as a future president. While there, Hu Chunhua oversaw rapid economic growth and dealt successfully with protests last year by ethnic Mongols.

Hu Chunhua came to Inner Mongolia following a brief stint in Hebei, the arid province which surrounds Beijing, where he was rapidly moved after a scandal over tainted milk in which at least six children died and thousands became ill.

Hu Chunhua remains something of an enigma, even in China. He has given few clues about his deeper policy beliefs. One of the best known things about him is that he does not appear to dye his hair jet black like many politicians.

In meetings with the public, Hu Chunhua comes across as low key and self effacing, in line with an image of a loyal, humble Communist Party member. People who have met him describe him as relaxed, easy-going and spontaneous, unlike stiffer party leaders.

Hu and newly appointed Chongqing Party chief Sun Zhengcai were both elevated to the Politburo last month, and are likely to rise further to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2017 and the presidency and premiership in 2022. (See Cheng Li’s profiles of the two men at the Brookings Institution.) None of this can be taken for granted, however: neither of their predecessors, Wang Yang and Bo Xilai, has followed the trajectory widely anticipated even at the start of this year. The Associated Press’ Didi Tang focused on Wang Yang, Guangdong’s previous Party chief, whose next assignment has not yet been revealed:

Xinhua gave no indication of Wang’s next job, but China watchers said he is likely to be named a vice premier when China’s legislature meets in the spring.

Wang, 57, is seen as a politically liberal figure. He failed to win a seat on the party’s ruling seven-member Standing Committee when new leaders were installed last month but was named to the lower-ranking Politburo.

[…] Wang was seen at Xi’s side when the general secretary visited Guangdong in early December. Li Cheng, an expert on China’s elite politics at Washington-based think tank Brookings Institute, said the appearance of the two together was to show the solidarity of the party leadership, because Wang is not considered to be in Xi’s camp in China’s factional politics.

“It’s a symbol of unity,” Li said.

Hu’s replacement in Inner Mongolia, Wang Jun, has extensive experience related to the autonomous region’s heavy mining industry. Wang was appointed governor of coal-rich Shanxi province following an accident which claimed more than 270 lives at an iron mine in 2008, and had previously headed the national work safety agency. His acting replacement in Shanxi is Li Xiaopeng, son of former premier Li Peng. New Party chiefs for Zhejiang, Shaanxi and Jilin were also announced on Tuesday, with appointments for Fujian and Guangxi following the next day. The blizzard of new posts sent a “subtle message”, according to a Global Times editorial, which hailed the new provincial leaders as offering the public a fresh start.

The Party secretary is the very top leader in a province. The prominence of this position differs from Western systems and is the key to ensuring that the Party rules the country’s political system.

[…] The population and economic scale of many provinces exceed those of middle-sized countries. As China is undergoing rapid development and social conflicts, the difficulties in managing a province can be much greater than managing a global power.

[…] Party secretaries should make efforts to improve communication with the public. We are looking forward to those who are outspoken and can interact with the public.

A new political style has been showcased by the Party’s top leadership. These new provincial leaders are expected to emulate it in solving local problems.