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100 days in office: New leadership wins trust
( 2003-06-27 07:22) (China Daily)

President Hu Jintao (left) talks with Premier Wen Jiabao at the seventh plenary meeting of the first session of the 10th National People's Congress in the Great Hall of the People in March 17, 2003. [newsphoto.com.cn]
Nothing could have been more reassuring and rewarding for China's new leadership than the World Health Organization's decision on Tuesday to lift its SARS alert on Beijing as the government had finished its first 100 days in office.

Beijing, another epicentre of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in addition to South China's Guangdong Province, was the last place on the Chinese mainland to be removed from the WHO travel advisory and from its list of areas affected by SARS.

As life returns to normal in the Chinese capital, the horrific episode that has monopolized our national agenda for months is almost at an end.

The administration has ample reason to celebrate because not only has our country come through the fiasco devoid of major damage but the government team has emerged from the havoc with greater merit.

Despite the absence of an authoritative survey of approval ratings of the new leaders, there are plenty of signs that their popularity has increased.

Hu Jintao is elected with eight others into the Standing Committee of Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee. Meeting with Chinese and overseas journalists in the Great Hall of the People on November 15, 2002, they are, from left to right, Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Huang Ju, Wu Guanzheng, Li Changchun and Luo Gan. [xinhua]

The public acclamation become louder after June 18 when the State Council decided to nullify a 21-year-old decree on forcefully collecting and relocating beggars and vagrants in cities and to replace the old system with a comprehensive relief programme.

An innocent young designer from rural Hubei Province in Central China died of torture in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, in unwarranted custody on March 20. His death ignited angry calls for a review of the rigid decree, which law experts said violates the Constitution.

The new rules, which will take effect on August 1, have been welcomed as a symbol of the new leadership's responsiveness to public opinion.

The image of President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and their colleagues as "men and women of the people'' has struck deeper in people's minds after the SARS ordeal.

The low-profile Hu and Wen captivated the hearts of the nation with their no-nonsense debut and particular concern for the underprivileged soon after they took over the reins of government.

At a Communist Party Political Bureau meeting on March 28, they proposed reductions in the entourage accompanying leaders on their overseas visits and simplification of the corresponding ceremonies to send off and welcome back leaders. They also called for media reports to be "closer to reality, closer to the masses, and closer to life.'' The relative aggressiveness seen recently in the Chinese media is a result of their appreciation of the watchdog role of the press in building a clean government.

Their antipathy towards and endeavour to get rid of vain behaviour could not but win them favourable public opinion.

Hu's first trip overseas as China's president took place between May 26 and June 5. He visited Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and France on what was the first trip in decades by a senior Chinese leader without any official formalities to send him off or welcome him back.

Still fresh and vivid in Chinese people's collective memory is the television footage of Wen in a miner's work clothes, eating dumplings with coal miners in a pit 720 metres underground in Fuxin, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, on lunar new year's eve, a traditional time for family reunions.

On March 18, the day after he assumed the presidency, Hu Jintao vowed before the TV cameras to "use my power for the people, link my feelings to the people, and to focus my heart on the pursuit of public welfare.'' On the same day, Wen Jiabao, the new premier, quoted a poem as his motto: "In life or death, act in the country's benefit.''

Their deeds in the anti-SARS battle showed that those were no empty words.

The pair's frequent appearances at hospitals and various other high-risk public venues at the peak of the SARS infection served as powerful mobilization calls for China's "war of the people'' against the ruthless epidemic. Their image as "one of us'' strengthened the nation's feeling of togetherness in those horrific days.

The new leadership's resolute measures to crack down on price hikes and restore market order were effective in helping calm down a panicked public.

At his first press conference as premier, Wen Jiabao portrayed himself as a man of "faith, determination, and a sense of responsibility,'' in addition to being mild-tempered.

It was the political will to follow what is correct that distinguished the new administration.

The new leaders' decision to break away from the traditional secrecy in handling a matter of public interest was not without risk.

The true picture of the SARS epidemic had not been made available to the public until April 20 exactly because of a fear of instability. The political and economic stakes were especially high, given the broad consensus that this country cannot afford to lose its hard-won economic fruit.

The panic buying in late February, though short-lived, was cited by some officials to back up their fondness of secrecy.

The new leadership's decision to share information with the public and the international community was a major boost for global efforts to contain the spread of the life-threatening disease. The decision honoured the country's promise to be a responsible member of the international community. The Chinese concept of "early diagnosis, early reporting, early isolation and early treatment'' has proven to be the most feasible approach in coping with the epidemic, about which we know very little even today.

The dismissals of the former Beijing mayor and health minister were a demonstration of the new leadership's resolve to act differently. That fitted in well with Wen Jiabao's appeal for his new cabinet to take on a new look.

The new Chinese leadership won trust at home and abroad through such action.

Their hard work, their knowledge about our national conditions, their eagerness to address people's needs and concerns justify that trust.

The new administration's performance in the past 100 days has defied the previous foreign prophecy that they would more probably be caretakers than trail-blazers.

The government has started to reshuffle the country's framework of public administration. The cohesion the new leaders have forged with the people in a time of crisis will prove a precious asset on the way ahead.

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