Beijing (AsiaNews) – In a surprise move, China’s central government named five new ministers and a new editor for state-owned Xinhua news agency, prompting some observers to speak of a showdown ahead of the 17th party congress set to start on October 15. Local experts however believe that the reshuffle was aimed at bringing new blood into the cabinet, new people better known for their technical expertise than their party ties. Officially ministers stay in their post until the age of 65.
The most controversial change is that of Finance Minister Jin Renqing, who will be replaced by Xie Xuren, the director of the State Administration of Taxation.
A National People’s Congress spokesman said he asked to resign for "personal reasons,” but some Hong Kong papers printed stories alleging some sexual improprieties and corruption. This said, no charge has been laid against him. Indeed he is still described as a "comrade" by the State Council's spokesman, and is expected to become a deputy head of the State Council's Development Research Centre, a government think-tank.
A Beijing economist told AsiaNews that at worse many in government feel that Jin let them down for failing to control real estate speculation in big cities. Housing and consumer prices have in fact risen considerably in recent times.
Xie, the new finance minister, is younger than Jin by three years.
New blood and greater effectiveness are the basic reasons for his appointment and that of the other new ministers. They are:
§ Geng Huichang, 56, who will be the Minister of State Security, replacing Xu Yongyue, 65.
§ Zhang Qingwei, 46, who takes over from Zhang Yunchuan, 61, as minister in charge of the State Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence. A graduate of North-western Polytechnic University in Xian, he has spent most of his professional life in aerospace science and technology and was deputy chief commander of the manned space programme. Once sworn-in he will be the youngest minister in the cabinet. His predecessor won’t be idle; he is set to get another post.
§ Ma Wen, 59, is a former deputy secretary to the standing committee of the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Now she will run the Supervision ministry, taking the place of Li Zhilun who died in April at the age of 65. She will be the third female cabinet member.
§ Yin Weimin, 54, becomes the new personnel minister, taking over from of Zhang Bolin, 65. He was already a vice-minister in the same ministry.
Some reports suggest that Culture Minister Sun Jiazheng, 63, will be replaced by current Shanxi Governor Yu Youjun.
What is certain though is that Xinhua editor Nan Zhenzhong, 65, is on his way out, to be replaced by his 50-year-old deputy, He Ping, a graduate in Chinese literature from Beijing University.
Given these sweeping changes some observers immediately speculated that just a few weeks before the 17th party congress a showdown was underway pitting radicals against moderates, or the ‘Gang of Shanghai’ centred on former president Jiang Zemin, against ‘Fourth Generation’ leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.
Traditionally, such changes are made after the National People’s Congress meets in March.
However, what these changes show is that everything has already been decided before the congress.
Much has already been said over the last few months about possible political reforms, greater internal democracy in the party, and Hu’s victory over the ‘Gang of Shanghai.’
A few weeks before the event, it appears that the party has achieved internal ‘harmony.’ All the major problems that afflict Chinese society like pollution, local corruption, unjustified land seizures, growing poverty and higher food prices have been effectively swept under the carpet so much so that the information ministry has issued a directive to all media outlets (including those online) banning reporting all ‘bad’ news.
The answer to the rising social tensions that have fuelled unrest, attacks against party offices, and clashes with police and soldiers on a daily basis has been the renewed unity of the party, a closer alliance between Hu Jintao and army generals, and reconciliation between the Jiang and the Hu factions.
Indeed, for Xinhua, the upcoming congress will be a time to celebrate the achievements of Deng, Jiang and Hu.