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Guangdong’s Wang Yang: A kinder, gentler communist?

Posted: 09/18/2012 3:08 pm

Identified as one of the more liberal leaning hopefuls for a spot in China’s elite Politburo Standing Committee, Wang Yang has been a strong proponent of political and economic reform in Guangdong Province since his rise to Party Chief in 2007. Earlier this year, he took his “Guangdong Model” to Beijing seeking to reduce China’s bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation. Standing before the National People’s Congress in March, Wang argued that: “To solve the problem of vested interest groups holding up reform, we must first perform surgery on the party and the government.” Somewhat surprisingly, Beijing not only listened, they chose Wang, nicknamed the “Young Marshal”, and Guangdong Province to pilot a three-year program attacking China’s red tape.

Yet according to a story in the South China Morning Post, while Wang may be ahead of his time, reformists shouldn’t get their hopes up. Although Wang has stressed the need for government transparency, less polluting factories, and has met with high profile Western leaders, he remains betrothed to the Party. According to City University Political Science Professor Dr. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, just because Wang is willing to test the water, doesn’t mean he’s prepared to challenge the central leadership: “Wang is a trusted ally of Hu and his policy programme closely follows Hu’s vision. He’s a reformist, certainly, but there are serious constraints.”

Of the aforementioned constraints, arguably the most significant has been Wang’s aggressive approach toward the press. In June an editor at The Southern Metropolis News was suspended for posting commentary critical of the government. Soon after, the Deputy Director of the Guangdong Propaganda Department, Yang Jian, was placed as Party Secretary of the Nanfang Media Group. Finally, Chen Zhong, Chief Editor of liberal leaning Nanfeng Chuang, was replaced by yet another Propaganda Department loyalist. Guangdong has long enjoyed a freedom of the press largely absent in much of China, and the recent crackdown under Wang’s watch is certainly cause for concern.

Although Wang has no doubt encouraged public participation in the political process, be it an acceptance of non-governmental organizations (Guangdong’s NGO’s are given greater autonomy than anywhere else in the country), or his ability to handle high profile events such as last year’s Wukan Village crisis, he remains a party loyalist. And while Wang may be willing to encourage greater political and social latitude, such latitude will only be permitted provided it’s in the interests of the Party.

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