In Fujian province on the east coast, where he served as deputy governor and governor, Xi immersed himself in details of China’s relationship with Taiwan and helped attract Taiwanese investment to the province, say Taiwanese businessmen and Chinese academics.
Li Shih-Wei, a leader of the Taiwanese investment association in Fujian and head of the Tenfu Group, a tea company, recalls having frequent meetings with Xi over the years. “When we discussed some problems we had, he would listen closely, track the issue and try to find a solution,” Li said. “His working efficiency was pretty high. That’s pretty rare among the officials we met here.”
Li said that lunch and dinner meetings were usually held in the government cafeteria, not opulent restaurants. “He didn’t lead a luxurious lifestyle,” Li said.
In neighboring Zhejiang province, where Xi moved after Fujian and served as governor and Communist Party chief from 2002 until March 2007, local businessmen and scholars said that civil society groups enjoyed a rare and prolonged period of openness. Thousands of new groups formed — many of them business associations representing the provinces’ legions of small industries. Independent candidates took seats in the local political bodies, the district congresses.
“When [Xi] was governor here in Zhejiang, the atmosphere here was the most open ever,” said Zhou De Wen, head of the local industry association in Wenzhou city. “Only with that relatively open and relaxed environment could an industry association like mine voice opinions that might differ from the government’s.”
Li Fan, founder of the World and China Institute in Beijing, which studies elections, said the period in Zhejiang from 2002 until 2007 saw the rapid growth of nongovernmental groups, including industry associations and unions, which bargained over wages and kept labor disputes to a minimum. Underground, unsanctioned churches operated relatively peacefully. Also, Li said, in local elections in Wenzhou five years ago, many independents not backed by the party won seats without government interference.
But Li said it was unclear whether Xi backed the openness. “We cannot say Xi Jinping supported this,” Li said. “We can say it happened under Xi Jinping’s leadership.”