“Little Hu” Thrown into the Guangdong Fire

Mimi Lau of the South China Morning Post reports that despite his reformist credentials, new Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua has held his cards close to the vest while navigating a series of early tests:

His low-profile, opaque political agenda and seeming reluctance to outline his own policy ideas combined to make the rising political star almost invisible at the NPC meeting, China’s most important annual political event. His discreetness could be a strategy to hide his capabilities and bide his time – a self-preservation instinct that could help him grow wings before they are clipped prematurely.

If Hu does well in Guangdong, he is expected to be rewarded with membership of the Communist Party’s supreme decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, in just under five years.

It is believed by many China watchers that the reason that Wang was unable to get into the Politburo Standing Committee in November was that his high-profile, reformist image was not well received by party elders.

Lau adds that Hu’s dark grey hair can “best be described as salt and pepper, with plenty of white mixed in with the grey.”  He did not have much time to get comfortable in his new seat, as a face-off broke out in early January between propaganda officials and journalists at the Southern Weekly newspaper over a rewriting of the liberal publication’s New Year greeting. And earlier this month, a police blockade around the village of Shangpu evoked memories of Wukan as residents demanded democratic elections and challenged the local village head over a disputed land deal.

Hu’s handling of these incidents offers clues about his management style, according to Reuters, as his local performance will affect his chances for promotion to the upper echelons of China’s central government. But the Diplomat’s Zachary Keck claims that Hu has backtracked on the agreed terms that ended the Southern Weekly incident, and his government’s response to the Shangpu crisis “oscillated between insufficient repression and insufficient concessions,” performances that will likely come under heavy scrutiny in Beijing:

That being said, these incidents in no way doom Hu’s future prospects in the Communist Party in the same way that stalled economic growth might. Still, if President Xi Jinping is like his predecessors his early tenure will be characterized attempts to shore up his power base. This usually includes, among other things, diminishing predecessors’ ability to exercise influence through well-placed political allies, which former President Hu Jintao has in spades.

It’s not clear if Xi Jinping will seek to diminish Hu Jintao’s influence by targeting his allies and protégés. Ling Jihua’s fate certainly suggests he might, whereas his decision to make Li Yuanchao vice president suggests he may not be all that concerned about the former president’s protégés after all.

Still, if Xi does move against the Hu Jintao-led Communist Youth League faction, Little Hu will want to avoid giving Xi any ammunition to target him directly.

Read more about Hu Chunhua via CDT.