China Leadership Monitor

Hu’s Southern Expedition: Changing Leadership in Guangdong

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hu Jintao’s power base has largely been centered in China’s inland provinces rather than in the country’s coastal areas. For most of the past decade, Guangdong, one of the wealthiest provinces in the country, was considered the turf of Jiang Zemin and his elitist coalition. China’s political landscape is, however, changing rapidly. Nowhere is this more evident than in Guangdong today, where all three of the top leadership posts have recently been transferred into the hands of Hu Jintao’s protégés. During the first two months of his tenure as the Party secretary in Guangdong, Wang Yang, Hu’s ally, launched a new wave of “thought emancipation,” urging local officials to break free of ideological and political taboos. Wang has also claimed that Guangdong should become a new experimental zone for bold political reforms that would be pioneered on behalf of the rest of the country. In a very real sense, Hu Jintao appears to be building his political power by launching a drive to “conquer” the south for the populist coalition so as to reform the nation’s politics. The ramifications of Hu’s “Southern Expedition,” if we can call it such, may therefore go far beyond factional gains or losses.