Business Standard, 16th Nov 12
Business Standard, 16th Nov 12
At the end of the week-long 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping --- probably China’s president and Party head for the next ten years --- led seven men onto the crimson dais of the Great Hall of the People. This chosen group will comprise the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the pinnacle of political power in the People’s Republic of China.
Xi’s elevation to party chief was on the cards, but a surprise development was his immediate appointment as head of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the influential People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Outgoing party chief, Hu Jintao, had been expected to continue as CMC head for two more years before handing over to Xi. Now Xi, who will oversee China’s security, will not have to look over his shoulder.
Behind Xi was Li Keqiang, who is expected to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier early next year. Li is from the “populist” political grouping, dubbed the “tuanpai”, which traditionally upholds the interests of farmers, migrant workers and the urban poor. Xi belongs to the “elitist” grouping, dominated by so-called princelings (descendents of powerful party elites), with careers in economic management rather than the rural areas that the “tuanpai” focus on. The PSC has traditionally featured members of both groups, under the slogan “one party, two coalitions.”
Following Li, in third place, was Zhang Dejiang, the party fire fighter who was sent to Chongqing to clean up after the spectacular downfall of Bo Xilai, and his wife’s arrest and sentencing for murder. As the third-ranked leader, Zhang will chair the National People’s Congress, China’s nominal parliament.
Addressing the delegates, Xi identified intra-party corruption and “bureaucratism” as “severe challenges” for the Party. “We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole Party must stay on full alert,” said Xi.
But the PSC’s composition did little to suggest that reform was in the offing. The party’s two most prominent reformers --- Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang --- who were watched closely as bellwethers of party intentions, have been left out of the PSC.
A surprise big winner in the behind-the-scenes jostling for control of power is former President Jiang Zemin, now 86, who was critically ill last year and written off by many as a seriously power player. Four of Jiang’s protégés --- Zhang Dejiang; Yu Zhengsheng; Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli --- have made it to the PSC, leaving him with greater power over China’s future direction than outgoing chairman, Hu Jintao.
But Jiang’s protégés might remain in a majority only for the next five years. In the 2017, five of the PSC members, including all four Jiang protégés, would reach retirement age. In contrast, both Hu’s allies seem set to continue after 2017.
Jiang, an unapologetic economic reformer who had brought China into the World Trade Organisation and built a strong economic relationship with the west, has apparently criticized the current fourth generation of leaders --- Hu and Wen --- for backtracking on economic reform and, thereby, slowing China’s growth.
* * * * *
Profile: China’s 7 wise men
(Clock wise, from top left) Xi Jinping; Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng; Liu Yunshan; Wang Qishan; and Zhang Gaoli
1. Xi Jinping. Party chief and slated to take over as president early next year. Folk singer wife, Peng Liyuan, may be better known in China than Xi. A princeling son of a former CCP leader, Xi is from the “elitist” faction.
2. Li Keqiang, likely to take over as premier next year. Risen from a manual labourer, he is from the “populist” faction. A protégé of Hu Jintao, Li will handle China’s economy.
3. Zhang Dejiang, became a front-runner for the PSC when he was sent to Chongqing this year to manage the Bo Xilai crisis. From the “elitist” faction, Zhang is a conservative who opposes economic, political and media liberalisation. A protégé of Jiang Zemin.
4. Yu Zhengsheng, is a princeling from the “elitist” faction, with known ties to Deng Xiao-ping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Yu’s father briefly married Mao Ze-dong’s notorious wife, Jiang Qing. A trained ballistics missile engineer.
5. Liu Yunshan, aged 55, is head of the CCP propaganda department. Has advocated “internet restraint” and could wield a heavy hand over media nationwide. From the “populist” faction, he is a close ally of Hu Jintao.
6. Wang Qishan, China’s key economic negotiator, he is dynamic and reformist. A princeling from the “elitist” faction, he is regarded as a protégé of Jiang Zemin.
7. Zhang Gaoli, a little-known former oil executive, who has managed Shenzhen and Tianjin. Economically reformist, he is from the “elitist” faction. A long-time protégé of Jiang Zemin.