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Troubleshooter to lead fight against graft

Though Wang will likely be ranked last in the PSC, observers say he will have more clout than some others. (PHOTO: TOMOHIRO OHSUMI)

Publication Date : 15-11-2012

 

Vice-Premier Wang Qishan has been confirmed as the third member of China's top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), with his appointment as anti-corruption czar.

He was the highest-ranked leader named to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a graft-fighting body, at the close of the week-long 18th Party Congress yesterday.

"This means he will enter the Standing Committee and take charge of the anti-corruption portfolio," said Singapore-based analyst Bo Zhiyue. The other two confirmed members are China's next leader Xi Jinping and incoming premier Li Keqiang.

Wang will replace the outgoing top graft-fighter, He Guoqiang, in the new PSC whose members will be unveiled today.

The appointment ended recent speculation that Wang, 64, would become the next executive vice-premier in charge of economic and trade affairs.

That possibility had raised hopes in some quarters that Wang, with his strong grasp of finance, would push reforms in that sector and also boost China's unsteady recovery from an economic slowdown.

These expectations stemmed from the former top banker's current role. As one of four vice-premiers since 2008, he is in charge of overseeing China's finance sector and foreign trade.

In recent weeks, however, strong rumours swirled that he might not be named executive vice-premier out of concern that he might overshadow Li.

The talk now is that the post will go to either Tianjin party boss Zhang Gaoli or another vice-premier, Zhang Dejiang.

As head of the anti-corruption watchdog body, Wang will likely be ranked last in the new PSC.

But he will be formidable, said observers. He would have more clout than higher-ranked PSC members who take charge of China's ceremonial legislature and advisory body.

Hong Kong-based observer Willy Lam said the anti-corruption chief is empowered on paper to investigate anyone - even the Chinese Communist Party chief - for graft and disciplinary problems, though former and current PSC members are deemed off-limits.

Though a consensus must be reached within the PSC before a high-ranking official, such as a minister, can be investigated, Prof Lam believes that Wang has the chops to take action.

"If you look at his track record, he likes to get things done and leave a legacy of achievements," he said. "I believe he will aim to crack major cases during his term that will shock the nation so he can be regarded as the country's best graft-buster."

Wang's strong connections at the top because of his "princeling" background will also help, said analysts. His father was a Shanxi party chief and his father-in-law, the late Yao Yilin, was a vice-premier. Wang is also known to be close to former president Jiang Zemin and former premier Zhu Rongji.

His appointment indicates that the Chinese Communist Party is planning to step up its fight against official corruption, said observers, citing the Vice-Premier's reputation as a troubleshooter.

The former central bank deputy governor and president of the state-owned China Construction Bank has tackled some tricky problems since he began his political career as vice-governor of Guangdong in 1998. He was parachuted into Beijing as acting mayor during the Sars crisis in 2003.

"Wang Qishan doesn't have the experience in fighting corruption, but he definitely has the capacity to do so given his reputation as a firefighter," said Dr Bo.

"This time round, there is a fire in the form of corruption, and so he has been tasked to put it out."

 

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