China’s Premier Seeks Reforms and Relevance

The New York Times discusses Wen Jiabao’s position as Beijing’s “human face”, his repeated calls for and transparency, and what substance might really lie behind them:

“When Wen became premier eight years ago, people had high hopes because his speeches always leave people hopeful,” said He Weifang, a liberal Beijing legal scholar. “But now it has been eight years. His term is coming to an end. It’s doubtful whether he genuinely has the strong will to reform, because it doesn’t seem he has taken enough convincing actions to resist the conservatives.”

Mr. Wen has never been seen as especially strong. Some scholars of China’s leadership say his unspecific calls for and people power actually fit comfortably within a Communist Party committed to absolute rule.

Others question his maverick credentials, calling him less a reformer than the good cop in a bad-cop system. “Wen’s become the human face of the administration, and he’s been very effective,” said Susan Shirk, a longtime China expert at the University of California, San Diego. “The other possibility is that Wen Jiabao has two faces. He advocates transparency in his public statements, but only insofar as it doesn’t threaten the authority of the party ….”

Mr. Wen’s happy-warrior persona also shows signs of tarnishing his standing with the masses, as government action consistently falls short of his promises. “More people are starting to ask, ‘Why don’t these words come true?’ ” said Mr. He, the legal scholar.

See also Views On Political Reform And Leadership Splits In China on Sinocism, and our own past coverage of Wen, including Wen Jiabao’s Stunning Admission at Train Crash Site, China’s Premier Again Calls for Political Reform and Du Daozheng on Hu and Wen, and Reform.

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