Xi makes first visit to Chongqing as leader

President Xi Jinping has visited Chongqing for the first time as the Communist Party chief.
President Xi Jinping has visited Chongqing for the first time as the Communist Party chief. PHOTO: REUTERS

Observers say it signals support for city's rebound after downfall of party chief Bo Xilai

President Xi Jinping has visited Chongqing for the first time as the Communist Party chief, signalling his support for its development and rebound after the downfall of its party chief Bo Xilai in 2012.

Mr Xi's visit on Monday reportedly included a tour of the south-western city's Guoyuangang transport hub of ports and high-speed railways, as well as a visit to a manufacturer of LCD screens. Xinhua state agency photos show Mr Xi with Chongqing party boss Sun Zhengcai and mayor Huang Qifan.

Observers say Mr Xi's visit, his first to Chongqing since 2010 as vice-president, could also benefit a new government-led project between Singapore and China, which is based in the city.

Launched during Mr Xi's visit to Singapore last November, the project's theme is modern connectivity and modern services and its focus is on four sectors: financial services, aviation, transport and logistics, and information and communication technology.

"We may expect to see favourable policy support and resources from the central government for Chongqing and the project," said Dr Chen Gang, a senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore.

"Also, local officials, knowing the top leader shows high concern for Chongqing, will be more motivated to make the project a success."

Beijing-based political observer Yang Dali said Mr Xi's visit on the first working day of the new year was politically symbolic, signalling a fresh start for Chongqing.

"It also seeks to show that Xi is firmly in command of the party to be able to visit Chongqing," Professor Yang, faculty director of the University of Chicago Centre in Beijing, told The Straits Times.

The Bo Xilai saga remains a sensitive and divisive issue within the party. From 2007 till his dismissal in March 2012, Bo ran a controversial "Chongqing Model" of governance featuring a clampdown on triads, a revival of Maoist practices such as mass public singing of Communist songs, and an increased state presence in the economy.

Bo received a life term in September 2013 for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in covering up his wife Gu Kailai's murder of a British businessman.

But his supporters still see Bo, 66, as a victim of power play. Until his downfall, Bo was seen as a contender for a spot on the apex Politburo Standing Committee in the leadership transfer in November 2012.

On why it took three years for Mr Xi to visit Chongqing as President, Dr Chen said he might have wanted more time for Bo's legacy and popularity to be diluted among the public. "What Xi wants is also for his visit to be seen as an endorsement of the current Chongqing leadership, not Bo's, and to use the city as an example for others to follow..."

Chongqing topped China's 31 provinces, regions and municipalities with an 11 per cent growth rate in the first three quarters of last year. It was also first in 2014 with 10.9 per cent growth, and second in 2013 with a 12.3 per cent rate. It is seen as one of the most pro-active among the 31 in implementing economic reforms and Mr Xi's "One Belt, One Road" initiatives to better link China with external economies.

Observers say Mr Xi's visit is also significant, coming ahead of next year's 19th party congress when a new leadership team could emerge and take over the reins in 2022.

"Xi could be using the trip to size up Sun Zhengcai," said Prof Yang.

Mr Sun is among the so-called sixth generation of potential national leaders born in the 1960s. The others include Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua, Heilongjiang governor Lu Hao, newly appointed Beijing anti-graft chief Li Shulei and Guizhou party boss Chen Min'er.

Amid the jostling, Mr Xi has issued an indirect warning, in a book published last Friday, that no one was immune from punishment in his anti-corruption drive.

Observers say the warning could be directed at retired leaders or princelings trying to prevent Mr Xi's allies from taking up top posts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'Xi makes first visit to Chongqing as leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe