Zhang Dejiang is a member of the last Central Committee, a vice-premier of the State Council. Since the Bo Xilai purge he has also served as party secretary of Chongqing. Like many of the current generation of CCP leadership, Zhang was born into a family closely associated with the communist revolution. In Zhang Dejiang’s case, his father, Zhang Zhiyi, was a well-respected communist general. However, Zhang Dejiang differed from most princelings in that he didn’t initially rely on his father’s political connections to rise through the ranks. After spending time in Jilin province during the Cultural Revolution, Zhang joined the CCP’s Propaganda Department and began studying Korean at Yanbian University. In the late 1970s Zhang entered Kim Il Sung University in North Korea and earned a degree in economics while simultaneously organizing the local Party branch of Chinese students. Upon returning to Yanbian University, Zhang began a slow rise through the ranks of the local CCP organization and eventually became party secretary of Jilin province in 1995.
Significantly, it was during this period that Zhang met Jiang Zemin, then-general secretary of the CCP. He would later help prepare Jiang for the latter’s trip to North Korea in 1990. This would pay off later when Zhang was given given choice appointments in Zhejiang and Guangdong Provinces. Throughout his time in the CCP Zhang has shown a commitment to conservative CCP principles and has been successful in handling a number of crises. At the same time, he has often been criticized for his heavy-handedness such as in his handling (or some say attempted cover up) of the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. He was also tainted when the Wenzhou high-speed train collision, which killed 40 people and injured around 200 others, happened on his watch last year.
He has a reputation for strictly towing the party line, as do many in the Shanghai group under Jiang Zemin, which is a large reason why Zhang was chosen to succeed Bo Xilai as party secretary of Chongqing after Bo’s falling out earlier this year. In a speech he gave to the Fourth Chongqing Municipal CPC Congress in June of this year, Zhang stated, “It is necessary to always maintain the party’s advanced nature and purity.” He added that cadres should “uphold democratic centralism” and reminded them that “Leading groups at all levels as well as all party members and cadres must consciously follow the party’s political discipline and organizational discipline, resolutely oppose liberalism and individualism, and always stay highly in line with the CPC Central Committee.”
Zhang’s policies and predispositions are seen as strongly conservative. His economic platform is very state-centric, and he supports growth through State Owned Enterprises (SEOs). In fact, while touring SEOs in Hubei last February, Zhang reportedly stressed the importance of continuing to “unwaveringly grow central enterprises and make them successful.” Additionally, because of his early education and experience, Zhang is very friendly with North Korea. With Zhang in power there is unlikely to be any major changes in the Chinese – North Korean relationship. Indeed, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was one of the first to send his congratulations to Xi Jinping after Xi formally took over as head of the PSC on Thursday.