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China's proposed administrative reforms gain unexpected momentum from nation's snow disaster

China's proposed administrative reforms gain unexpected momentum from nation's snow disaster

China's snow disaster ravaged crops, paralyzed transport and cut power to millions, revealing gaping defects in planning and crisis management.
Now the blizzards are helping drive long-planned moves to boost government efficiency by merging overlapping departments. A pair of proposals to do just that were green-lighted Wednesday by the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee and will go before next week's annual session of the national legislature for final approval.
"The battle against freak weather earlier this year has proved the urgency" of tackling reform, the official Xinhua News Agency said in an editorial. This year's session of the National People's Congress, the rubber stamp legislature which rarely opposes government policy, is to begin March 5.
The three-day Central Committee meeting also approved new ministerial appointments, but gave no names. Well-tested career bureaucrats are expected to fill positions in diplomacy, trade and other sensitive areas, although President and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to remain in their posts for another five years.
Leaders have focused on fine-tuning the one-party system while stopping well short of encouraging dramatic political change, although Wednesday's statement did contain a call for further changes to address income disparities and weaknesses in the legal system.
Last month's snow crisis _sparked when the worst winter storms in more than 50 years struck a wide swathe of usually temperate central and eastern China _ illustrated the glaring need for further refinements to deal with the massive, increasingly complex challenge of running a country of 1.3 billion and its sizzling economy.
While the statement defended the government's response it also demanded that lessons most be drawn from the experience to "better travel the road of scientific development" _ a reference to Hu's pet theory of good governance.
The storms left millions of migrant workers stranded during the peak Lunar New Year travel season. Economic losses due mainly to destroyed crops, homes and damage to the electrical grid, rose into the billions of dollars (euros). Lacking in resources and coordination, Beijing was forced to mobilize a million soldiers to aid in the recovery.
While no details of the reform proposals were given, pro-Beijing Hong Kong media say they would fold scattered departments into four new "super ministries" dealing with the crucial areas of energy, transportation, environmental protection and finance.
Some estimate that would reduce the number of Cabinet-level agencies to around 20 from the current 28, similar to other major industrialized nations, although still higher than Japan's 12, Britain's 17 and the United States' 15 Cabinet agencies.
Backers say such streamlining would reduce waste and bureaucratic infighting, but have warned that greater oversight might be needed to prevent the bodies from abusing their newly concentrated powers.
"This should produce a more powerful central government, but of course how well the system works in terms of generating good policy will depend on who is put in charge," said Joe Fewsmith, a Chinese politics expert at Boston University who has studied the reported proposals.
Few surprises are expected among new appointments for ministers and other top bureaucrats, which will largely institutionalize decisions made at last year's 17th party congress that renewed Hu's mandate and named a new members of the party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
Pundits say a possible Hu successor, Xi Jinping, is set to take on the vice president's spot, replacing influential party insider Zeng Qinghong.
While the succession remains open _ and still almost five years away _ Xi is seen as having the best chance of landing the job. The party's No. 6 ranking official and former boss of the commercial hub of Shanghai, he was recently handed the weighty task of overseeing Beijing's preparations for the Summer Olympic Games.
Li Keqiang, a likely successor to Wen as premier, will be appointed executive vice premier with major responsibility for the economy.
Among others moving into top post, the party's leading diplomat, Dai Bingguo, is expected to take over as top foreign policy adviser. Former state banker Wang Qishan is tipped to be given responsibility for trade policy and negotiations, replacing the formidable Wu Yi.
Academics who study the Chinese leadership said the appointments show Hu remains in control, but that the outcome of the succession remains in flux.
Personnel decisions are the result of power sharing agreements between different political camps, and both Xi and Li have yet to be accepted by either the political establishment or the public at large, said Cheng Li of Washington's Brookings Institution.
Steve Tsang, an expert on Chinese politics at Oxford University, said Hu would be happy to compromise on appointments if it kept the government on an even keel.
"Hu's priority now is to ensure stability, good order and prosperity," Tsang said.
"A strong and united leadership at the top, and continuous government reforms ... are essential," he said.


Updated : 2021-05-16 23:44 GMT+08:00