Former Shanghai mayor an early veteran of govt

Mr Wang Daohan, the head of China's Association for Relation Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats), on April 25, 1993.
Mr Wang Daohan, the head of China's Association for Relation Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats), on April 25, 1993.PHOTO: ST FILE

This article was first published in The Straits Times on April 26, 1993

The appointment of former Shanghai mayor Wang Daohan as head of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats), unlike that of his Taiwanese counterpart, Mr Koo Chen-fu, came as a surprise to many.

Never among the best-known of Chinese leaders to begin with, Mr Wang, 78, had sunk into virtual anonymity after 1985, when he was replaced as mayor of Shanghai by the now President and Communist Party secretary-general, Mr Jiang Zemin.

But an examination of his background shows that the appointment of the Anhui-born technocrat, who is described as "friendly and approachable" by those who know him, is not unsuitable.

An engineering graduate of Shanghai's Jiao Tong University like Mr Jiang, who is 14 years his junior, Mr Wang is an early veteran of the Chinese government.

From 1949, when the communists took over power in China, to 1952, he was Minister of the East China Industry Department. From there, he moved to the First Ministry of Machine Building, serving a 13-year spell as Deputy Minister.

Thereafter, his horizons extended beyond China as he was posted to a series of agencies handling economic relations with other countries.

Between 1965 and 1980, when he was appointed Shanghai mayor, he was vice-chairman of the Commission for Economic Relations with Foreign Countries for 14 years; Deputy Minister for Foreign Economic Relations; and then vice-chairman of the Import and Export Administration Commission and the Foreign Investment Commission.

Mr Wang's tenure as mayor of Shanghai in the early years of China's economic modernisation programme also involved foreign relations as Chinese leaders renounced the isolation of the past and began actively courting foreign capital and investors.

Shanghai, at one time the financial centre of Asia, was a key focus for their efforts and Mr Wang travelled abroad frequently to foster better ties with other countries.

He also helped lay the groundwork for developing Pudong, the city's now-booming industrial estate. However, he was replaced in 1985, along with a number of other regional and municipal leaders, during one of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's drives to rejuvenate the party and government across the country.

There were also reports at the time that the leadership was unhappy with him because the city, a leftist base during the Cultural Revolution, was lagging behind others in attracting foreign investments.

Investors were said to have complained about Shanghai's bureaucracy and services and the central leadership reportedly blamed the mayor for allowing leftists to block its reforms.

Like many others in the same position, Mr Wang was not put out to pasture completely, but was given a series of lower-level jobs - as a Chinese People's Congress representative for Shanghai and later as professor at Beijing, Fudan and Jiao Tong universities.

His return to the spotlight two years ago as chairman of Arats could be the result of his long association with Mr Jiang. This began in 1955 when the future President, just back from Moscow where he had been economic counsellor, was given his first government post.

He became an Assistant Minister in the Machine Building Ministry where Mr Wang was Deputy Minister.

According to reports, they worked well together. Mr Jiang soon moved on to better things, but the association did not end because, for several years after that, their respective jobs would have ensured their meeting professionally at least now and again.

Analysts said that another reason for Mr Wang's appointment as head of the politically sensitive Arats was his legal knowledge as one-time president of the Chinese Society of International Law.

They said this would be useful as the talks to improve links between the peoples of the two territories would inevitably involve legal problems.

Like his Taiwanese counterpart, Mr Wang, whose wife is a professor at Jiao Tong University, is a fan of Chinese opera as well as Western classical music.

He is also reputed to be a book lover, who was often spotted browsing alone in bookshops while he was mayor.