VOICING alarm over mounting ``empiricism'' in the nation's provinces, China has launched a campaign to break up entrenched local interests by shifting officials from one region to another. Under a policy announced six months ago, Beijing has transferred more than a dozen officials to new posts in a major shuffle of city and provincial authorities, state-run press reports show.
According to the pro-China Hong Kong newspaper Wen Hui Pao, the government is also reviving the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) ``rule of avoidance,'' which bars officials from taking up posts in their native towns. Twelve provinces and cities have already adopted the rule, which is slotted for enactment nationwide, the newspaper reported Nov. 4.
Although reasons behind individual personnel shifts vary, the overarching aim of China's hard-line leadership is to rotate cadres out of local power bases and thus weaken their ability to resist Beijing's policies, Western diplomats say.
``They want to move out entrenched people who don't want to do what the central government wants them to do,'' says a Western diplomat who monitors the personnel shifts. ``From the party's point of view [rotating officials] reduces `warlordism,''' the diplomat adds. ``There are fewer people loyal to just one guy.''
Provinces and major cities gained vast powers over revenues, raw materials, and economic policy during a decade of market-oriented reforms launched by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979. Many local authorities took advantage of their new autonomy to establish ``private forces'' by filling key government and factory jobs with relatives and friends, Chinese sources say.
Today, Beijing's central planners seek to retract powers delegated to regions in the 1980s. To do so, they must overcome stiff resistance from officials and their powerful private networks, especially in prosperous coastal provinces.
The countrywide shuffle is aimed at ``freeing cadres from being plagued with various complicated relations [and] ... unfavorable factors caused by their long tenure in one locality,'' an Aug. 4 editorial in People's Daily says.
The editorial criticizes local officials who reject transfer orders, urging them to ``overcome parochial and narrow-minded sentiments'' and ``take up their new posts happily.''
In one of the most significant changes so far, Beijing rotated the governors of three key provinces: the northeastern industrial powerhouse Liaoning, the breadbasket Henan, and Hebei, which surrounds the capital on the north China plain. Beijing hailed the transfers as a way to ``temper'' the governors while challenging them to ``aspire to better achievements.''
Western diplomats agree the Communist Party could gain, for example, from its decision to dispatch a reformer like Liaoning Governor Li Changchun to solve the agricultural problems of Henan. Such a switch also blocks attempts by ambitious men like Mr. Li to solidify a power base, as Governor Ye Xuanping has done in Guangdong, diplomats say.
Yet on the whole, Chinese officials and Western observers believe that the policy of relocating cadres cannot significantly check the rife regionalism nurtured by 10 years of reform.
``It won't help to break regional interests - they are too rigid,'' says Qiao Gang, an official at the Development Research Center of the State Council, China's Cabinet.
A newly installed official will quickly be taken over by the ingrained local power structure, which can manipulate him by sabotaging his work or, if he cooperates, helping him advance.
Moreover, the party leaders in Beijing who are orchestrating the shuffle in the name of party unity are actually engaged in intense horse-trading to promote their provincial proteges to expand their regional power bases, diplomats say.
The policy of rotating cadres, while recently accelerated, is not new. Mao Zedong proposed the idea from his guerrilla base in the town of Yan'an in 1942. He criticized the shantou zhuyi or ``mountaintop-ism,''among Red Army commanders who used troops to reign over occupied areas during the civil war. Mr. Deng revived the idea in the late 1970s, and since 1985, some 200 cadres have been transferred, the state-run news media report.