China's Mission Impossible

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BEIJING: Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to slice the considerable fat off China's 370,000 state-owned enterprises, at the same time creating jobs for the tens of millions people let go in the process. To achieve this, you'll have to maintain an 8 percent economic growth rate while recession grips the region around you, and refrain from devaluing your currency while maintaining your export levels.

Zhu Rongji's job description when he is appointed premier during China's annual legislative session, which begins Thursday, may sound like cruel and unusual punishment, but Zhu's résumé might just be equal to the challenge. Credited with everything from taming inflation in three years to being the driving force behind Shanghai's economic miracle, Zhu is widely admired in the West as a whip-cracking manager open to innovation, and as a man of his word.

The fact that he has risen to the countrys No. 3 leadership position without a base among either old-guard purists or the liberal reformers wrestling for control of China's Communist party makes him an even more attractive candidate: Should he fail, it's easier for his superiors to - so to speak - disavow all knowledge of his actions.