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China promotes conservative to propaganda minister

Published on Nov 21, 2012 5:57 PM
China appointed a loyal ally of President Hu Jintao, Mr Liu Qibao (pictured), formerly the party boss of south-western Sichuan province, as propaganda minister on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - China appointed on Wednesday a loyal ally of President Hu Jintao as propaganda minister and promoted one of its most senior female leaders to Communist Party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin.

The new propaganda minister, Mr Liu Qibao, formerly the party boss of south-western Sichuan province, replaced Mr Liu Yunshan, who was last week raised to the Standing Committee following a once-every-five-year party congress that unveiled a generational leadership change.

While media-savvy, Mr Liu is unlikely to loosen media controls as China's leaders, nervous about stability and the need to ensure one-party rule, are likely to keep domestic media on a short leash and clamp down on China's increasingly unruly Internet, which has over 500 million users.

The brief Xinhua announcement confirmed a Reuters report last month that said Mr Liu Qibao was tipped to replace Mr Liu Yunshan. The two are not related despite sharing a surname.

According to an official biography, Mr Liu comes from a poor background and rose to the upper echelons of the party through Mr Hu's powerbase of the Communist Youth League.

As propaganda minister, Mr Liu will have to instill confidence in the party and its policies and ensure a monopoly on the flow of information, something that is becoming harder in modern, wired China, with websites and several feisty new publications straining at the leash to uncover corruption and abuse of power.

Mr Liu will be in charge of disseminating official policy and viewpoints, as well as trying to combat rumours spread by the growing lack of public trust in mainstream state-run media's often mundane and occasionally dubious reporting.

Unusually for a senior Chinese official, he has engaged with ordinary people via online questions and used the popular Twitter-like microblog Sina Weibo to send messages.

However, he has taken a hardline approach to tackling a surge of self-immolations and protests in restive ethnic Tibetan parts of the province, and has locked up some dissidents.

In a separate announcement, Xinhua said Ms Sun Chunlan, 62, would move to Tianjin, which the government is trying to turn into a global financial centre, from the south-eastern coastal province of Fujian, where she had been party boss since 2009.

The appointment had been widely expected.

Ms Sun is one of only two women on the Politburo, a 25-member body that is a mix of military and civilian leaders which reports to the party's elite decision-making core, the seven-man Standing Committee.

She replaces Mr Zhang Gaoli, who was also raised to the Standing Committee.

Ms Sun worked her way up through various factory jobs in China's north-eastern industrial heartland and spent time in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Liaoning province, where the then up-and-coming Bo Xilai also worked and with whom she reputedly clashed, sources say.

Bo, once a top contender for senior leadership, is currently being investigated for corruption and abuse of power after his wife murdered a British businessman.

Tianjin, about 30 minutes south-east of Beijing by high-speed train, was a lively trade centre in pre-Communist days, before becoming a grubby backwater overshadowed by its close neighbour, the Chinese capital.

But investment in Tianjin accelerated under Mr Zhang's leadership, which began in 2007.

Critics see Tianjin, however, as typical of the kind of debt-financed infrastructure splurges that have succeeded in getting politicians noticed inside China's ruling Communist Party but have left behind mixed economic blessings.