NEWSMAKER-China’s Wen faces diplomatic test in S.Korea

By Lucy Hornby and Chris Buckley

BEIJING, May 28 (BestGrowthStock) – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is
on a delicate diplomatic mission this weekend as he attends a
trilateral meeting expected to be dominated by North Korea and
tries to shore up his influence at home.

The trilateral talks will be a tricky task. International
pressure is growing for China to acknowledge, and then act
upon, evidence that a North Korean torpedo sank the South
Korean navy corvette Cheonan in March. [ID:nSGE64R06WID]

In overseas summits, Wen has to operate within the
constraints of China’s collective leadership, without the
spontaneity that has allowed him to build a reputation as a
caring man of the people.

Domestically, a deft deal would shore up support for Wen,
who faces declining power over the next two years. His
successor will be anointed at the next Communist Party congress
in 2012.

“Wen would increase his own standing with the leadership if
he negotiated a successful outcome,” said Russell Moses, a
Beijing-based analyst of Chinese affairs.

“It would certainly add to his credibility as a
problem-solver within the leadership.”

Wen bows out in early 2013, after a decade at the helm of
China’s one-party government where the 67-year-old premier has
espoused policies to spread wealth and reduce inequalities.

But it won’t be easy to set the agenda this weekend, given
China’s collective decision-making.

“He will need consensus before departure, and cannot just
change policies,” said Bo Zhiyue, a researcher at National
University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.

“He has very little room to manoeuvre … That’s a
constraint of the collective leadership system.”

During climate change negotiations in Copenhagen last year,
Wen raised hackles when he retreated to a hotel room and sent a
junior official to negotiate with other world leaders.

Critics accused China of deliberately obstructing a deal,
but many analysts felt Wen’s actions reflected his lack of
autonomy or power to negotiate for his country. Wen told his
annual news conference in March that China was on the
invitation list but was never formally notified.

GRANDPA WEN

At home, Wen uses public appearances to his advantage
despite a relatively weak power base. He is more approachable
and more personable than his counterparts in the Party’s
nine-man Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top political
body.

“Because the end of his term is so visible, in many ways
Wen is considered a lame-duck premier,” Bo said. “He’s fully
aware of his limited time in office and wants to leave some
legacy.”

He recently generated controversy within China for penning
a nostalgic essay commemorating Hu Yaobang, the reformist Party
chief whose death on April 15, 1989, sparked pro-democracy
protests by students and workers centred on Tiananmen Square.

Some interpreted the essay as an attempt to regain favour
with the Communist Youth League, the power base of incumbent
Party chief and President Hu Jintao.

Wen was noticeably absent during the opening of the World
Expo in Shanghai in May, visiting instead displaced Tibetan
victims of a strong earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai province.

After the devastating Sichuan quake in 2008, Wen’s visits
to the disaster zone kept the rescue in the public spotlight
and spurred the army and bureaucracy to respond to pressing
problems.

The burst of popularity for “Grandpa Wen” may also have
aroused envy and adoring state media coverage of Wen was soon
replaced by images of the more sedate President Hu.

Narrowing the urban-rural income gap is a policy goal for
Wen. He abolished a grains tax dating back two millenia,
promoted rural industry and sketched out a broad social welfare
net.

Other initiatives to coax growth away from cheap exports,
big state projects and polluting factories have met resistance.

A geologist by training, Wen spent 14 years in poor, arid
Gansu province, rising through the Party as a loyal and
ever-prepared aide.

His reputation for unassuming service helped him survive
1989, when his boss, then party chief Zhao Ziyang, was purged
and put under house arrest for opposing the military crackdown
on the pro-democracy protests. Zhao died in 2005.

“My heart will always belong to my noble hopes, and for
this I would have no regrets even if I died nine times over,”
Wen said in March, quoting Qu Yuan (340 BC-278 BC), the
poet-statesman who threw himself into a river in present-day
Hunan province to protest against misrule by the king of Chu.

Wen’s immediate predecessor as premier, Zhu Rongji, seemed
to relish lambasting officials, baiting reporters and making
bold policy gambles, only some of which were successful.

Wen by contrast casts himself as a humble servant of the
people, smiling, conciliatory, often tearful in the face of
their suffering and with a relentless capacity for new jobs.

“Zhu Rongji had his iron fist and Wen Jiabao has had his
tears, but in the end both men have found neither way works
magic,” Zheng Yongnian, head of the National University of
Singapore’s East Asian Institute, told Reuters.

In private, officials sometimes scoff at Wen’s shows of
sentimentality, seen as unbecoming from a state boss.

“You can be popular by being soft. But eventually all
policies have to be enforced by bureaucrats and special
interests, and then crying doesn’t work,” said Zheng.

Stock Market Advice

(Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim and Paul Tait)

NEWSMAKER-China’s Wen faces diplomatic test in S.Korea