FEATURE: NPC ends with China at crossroads

China's latest leadership transition is underway in Beijing, with Premier Wen Jiabao holding court for the last time.

As this year's meeting of the National People's Congress wound down, the premier made one of his few appearances before journalists.

Mr Wen may have been in power for a decade, but now he says it is critical his successors engage in further economic and political reform.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao says it is critical his successors engage in further economic and political reform. [Reuters]
PHOTO

China's Premier Wen Jiabao says it is critical his successors engage in further economic and political reform. [Reuters]

VIDEO from Newsline

China's leadership transition begins

Created: 15/03/2012

Huey Fern Tay, Beijing

Last Updated: Thu, 15 Mar 2012 15:18:00 +1100

The Chinese Premier's press conference on the final day of the National People's Congress is a tightly managed event.

This year's was the last one for Premier Wen Jiabao and he made full use of it to send a few messages, including this warning: reform the system or risk another tragedy like the Cultural Revolution.

So why the reference to this ten year political campaign, this social upheaval that caused millions to be sent to forced labour and tens of thousands to be executed?

One similarity is that just like that point in time China is currently at a crossroad both economically and politically.

But was Premier Wen also signalling his preference for the next phase of China's growth?

Chinese leaders agree the country is in need of a new development model. They recognise that they can no longer rely so heavily on selling goods overseas and getting investors to pour money into China.

They also know that more growth needs to come from within.

But how should the country proceed?

Two alternatives have been given the most limelight. The one that's in full swing in Chongqing is promoting a more equitable growth while resuscitating Maoist values and culture. The other that has been forged ahead in Guangdong places a stronger emphasis on the market and developing civil society like NGOs and trade unions.

This model is considered more radical.

The Party boss of Guangdong, Wang Yang, is seen as a favourite to make it into the Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body because seven out of nine of its members will soon step down.

Up until last month people thought Wang Yang's counterpart in Chongqing, Bo Xilai, was also a strong contender for a seat in the Committee. That was before Bo Xilai's right hand man and former police chief Wang Lijun decided to flee Chongqing and spend one day inside the US Consulate in Chengdu. Wang Lijun is now under investigation and Premier Wen says progress has been made. Bo Xilai has now been stood down from his post.

No one knows for sure if the Communist Party is truly torn between these two options and if so how much support there is for either one of them.

But one thing we can safely assume is that Premier Wen does not approve of the red revolution.

He was asked at the press conference if the Wang Lijun incident had affected the Central government's trust and confidence in the Chongqing government. This is what Premier Wen had to say:

"Over the years the successive governments of Chongqing and the people of Chongqing have made tremendous reform and development and they have achieved remarkable progress in this regard," he said.

"The current party committee and government of Chongqing must seriously reflect on the Wang Lijun incident and learn lessons from it."

Who was the previous party boss of Chongqing? Wang Yang.

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