September 24, 2008


China's leaders brace for battle with regions (Willy Lam, 9/25/08, Asia Times)

The Hu-Wen team's worst headache could come from CCPCC members from the regions, who will be lobbying aggressively for Beijing to loosen its tight monetary policy as well as to boost transfer payments and preferential policies for provinces and cities hard hit by economic doldrums, such as the closure of medium-sized factories and falling property prices.

Moreover, the "warlords" - a reference to resourceful regional party secretaries, governors and mayors - have continued to resist the central authorities' (zhongyang) decade-long objective of streamlining the grassroots bureaucracy.

The agenda of the third plenum of the party's 17th Central Committee is ostensibly to discuss agricultural issues. Yet given the post-Olympics economic downturn, political analysts in Beijing say a major leitmotif of the conclave will be how to ensure that the hard times will not exacerbate already severe "contradictions within the people". There are signs that the nightmare the CCP leadership fears most may come to pass sooner than anticipated: members of the middle class joining "disadvantaged sectors" such as peasants and migrant workers in staging protests and even riots to vent their grievances. [...]

At least on the surface, two major post-Olympics disasters might create more incentives for the Hu-Wen leadership to crack the whip on regional bureaucracies. The first is the mass poisoning of babies and small children who have taken milk powder contaminated with the lethal chemical melamine. More than 53,000 infants have become ill - and at least four have died - after imbibing the tainted milk product, which is manufactured by Sanlu, a dairy company based in Hebei province. Given that Hebei police knew about irregularities in the company as early as May, suspicions of a cover-up have focused on senior Hebei leaders. The latter are said to be on good terms with the bosses of Sanlu, which contributed 330 million yuan of taxes to provincial coffers last year.

The other incident was the death of 254 residents in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province, in a mudslide earlier this month. The accident was triggered by the collapse of the retaining wall of an illegal mining dump containing tons of liquid iron ore waste. These two disasters have apparently given Beijing the pretext to take action against dereliction of duty and other mistakes on the part of regional officials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2008 6:27 AM
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