Wen Jiabao: Super Mandarin

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Global Voices Online features a translation of a fascinating interview with Premier Wen Jiabao. A number of things come through clearly. Most strongly of all perhaps is what a natural policy wonk Wen is and why he’s exactly the right man for the frighteningly complex job of clean up and reconstruction after the earthquake. Even though it is apparently a doorstop interview (that is impromptu), he’s got a bewildering number of facts and figures at his command: sixteen million buildings destroyed, one million new homes being built, six thousand already completed, 100 million cubic meters of lake water and this on-the-fly calculation of the amount of rubble to be shifted: “Six hundred meters multiplied by eight hundred meters, that’s 3.2 million cubic meters of stone.”

You can’t fake this sort of thing. He’s obviously is well on top of his brief. I’d hate to be an incompetent civil servant reporting dodgy numbers to him.

Interestingly, the interviewer (from Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong based private channel that hews closely to the government line but sometimes pushes the envelope more than the state-run media) asks three follow up questions about preventing corruption in relief efforts. The underlying premise, though unspoken, is that people don’t have any faith that their donations won’t be siphoned off by corrupt local officials. It’s a hard question to answer under any circumstances as it involves acknowledging that grassroots corruption is rampant and more or less ineradicable under the current system. Wen does a pretty good job on his first two tries but when she asks about the tofu buildings problem (see my previous post), he basically goes from uber-administrator/mandarin mode back to politician and avoids the question.