- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

BEIJING China's new prime minister, Wen Jiabao, made an extraordinary debut yesterday, joking and shaking hands with reporters as he promised ambitious reforms, including firing thousands of bureaucrats and privatizing banks.
He assumed a radically different style from the stiff traditions of communist leaders, portraying himself as an "ordinary man" and joking about his reputation as a mild-mannered "computer brain."
He also indirectly answered a question referring to the Tiananmen Square protests, the biggest crisis of his career. In 1989, he accompanied his then mentor, the liberal Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, into the vast plaza to negotiate with the demonstrators.
The gamble cost Mr. Zhao his job and his freedom he still lives under house arrest and Mr. Wen only just survived being purged himself.
A foreign journalist asked him whether he would now seek his former colleague's release, provoking a dramatic pause before Mr. Wen answered firmly that the period had seen a "very volatile international situation."
The party took firm measures to stabilize China's position, he said, and the dramatic improvement in the country's fortunes since had proved the vital importance of that stability.
He unflinchingly described China's problems: corruption, low rural incomes, inefficient state industries, fast-increasing unemployment and a financial system burdened by unpaid debts. He said 900 million peasants must be lifted out of poverty.
Mr. Wen was elected prime minister at the just-concluded National People's Congress, or parliament, when Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao was named president and Jiang Zemin, the outgoing president, retained control over the military.
Mr. Wen said the country needed to maintain its growth rate of 7.7 percent to soak up millions of laid-off workers and boost domestic consumption, which he has identified as essential to prosperity.
But analysts point out that reform of banking and industry has stalled and Mr. Wen has not shown the strength to push it through.

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