- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 248 Hour
- Reading permission
This week China opens its annual National People's Congress in Beijing, where delegates from across the country will chat about policy and network behind closed doors. At the end, they'll project an image of party unity for the public, with the standard paeans to fighting corruption and growing the economy. But just how eager are they to realize those goals? Kunming provincial Party Secretary Qiu He, a middle-management bureaucrat famous for his bulldozing authoritarianism, is testing the party's commitment to reform by taking extreme measures to achieve it. And in a nation that occasionally professes to want (gradual) democratization, Qiu is a lightning rod in the debate over whether dictatorial methods can build democratic institutions. He probably won't be the subject of this week's internal debates, but his program raises the questions: Can rule by iron fist lead to rule of law? And just how far will reform be allowed to go?
Qiu is not what party message-makers might consider a poster boy. Often referred to in the Chinese press as the nation's most controversial party secretary, he stole local headlines in November 2009 for tearing down billboards, temporarily banning outdoor advertising, and ordering the destruction of any building standing in the way of his urban-beautification plan. Thousands of surveillance cameras have been installed throughout Kunming, and he decreed that bars must be removed from thousands of people's windows because the government views them as an eyesore. His critics, who are many, say that he lacks any regard for human rights or the rule of law. "Some people think he's too extreme," said an educated Kunming resident who didn't want to be named because of the sensitivity of talking domestic politics to foreign media. "To beautify the city, he's removed a lot of people selling goods on the street, so things have become more expensive."
But at the same time, even in a country where most politicians seem desperate to project an image of stability, he has gotten real results. Kunming was one of China's most backward provincial capitals; it now benefits from better traffic infrastructure and more income. Qiu set up 35 "attract investment" bureaus in coastal areas and fired seven officials who didn't attract enough outside investment. The government attracted $10.3 billion in business investments in Kunming in 2009, a 33 percent rise over 2008, while taxes from overseas companies with local assets increased from $186 million in 2005 to $464 million in 2008. "Reform is about taking risks and even paying a great price," he said in the book How China's Leaders Think, in his only interview with a Westerner. (Qiu declined to comment for this story.)
Qiu began his municipal political career in the city of Suqian, one of the most backward cities in the coastal province of Jiangsu. Upon taking office, he ordered local officials to donate 10 percent of their salary, and peasants eight days of labor a year, to support road construction and other projects. To raise money, he ordered a full third of local officials to attract investment for the local government (probably by offering tax incentives, though the mechanics are unclear), saying that he'd fire the head of each department that didn't meet his fundraising target. He even privatized the schools and hospitals to help them run more efficiently—a minor heresy in state-run China.
Yet from 2000 to 2004, during his tenure as mayor and party secretary, the percentage of students entering high school rose from 48 to 80 percent, the highest rate for cities in the northern part of the province, and its GDP almost doubled from 2000 to 2005. Suqian remains poor—it simply does not have a large, wealthy tax base—but Qiu was credited with beautifying the city, improving its infrastructure, speeding up the growth of its economy, and fighting corruption. It helped, of course, that he had a strong relationship with his boss at the time, a provincial bigwig who now runs China's powerful Organization Department and is a close ally of President Hu Jintao. According to Joseph Fewsmith, a Boston University scholar of Chinese politics, it's not clear whether Qiu's hard-charging approach forged those ties, or whether those ties enabled his hard-charging approach. But in any case, says Fewsmith, pols in China can't be that controversial without high-level backing.