Every five years, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) meets to approve constitutional changes and elect a Central Committee. This committee is currently made up of 205 members and 152 alternate members, and includes the top officials from the party, military, state agencies and enterprises.
The Central Committee then appoints a Politburo of 19 to 25 people to oversee party operations. Between five and nine of the Politburo members are selected to serve on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the most powerful political body in China.
Although PSC membership is formally approved by the Central Committee, selections are made through informal discussions between top party officials. The PSC is believed to make decisions largely through consensus, reflecting the balance of power between the rival factions.
The party, and therefore the PSC, is officially subject to the constitution and the state. However, all major government positions are held by party members and it is this fusion between party and state that enables the party to retain overall control.
As general secretary of the CPC, chairman of the Central Military Commission and China’s president (a position to which he is elected by China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress), Hu Jintao is the apex at which all branches of power meet.
Even at lower and local levels, where the top party and state positions are often held separately – for example, the governor and party secretary of a province, although both are both party members – influence is exerted through party committees.
These committees, which are present in all state-related organizations and ultimately report to the Central Committee, pay close attention to the selection and promotion of personnel within government.
This influence stretches to National People’s Congress (NPC) elections. Chinese people vote on who should represent them on the People’s Congress at the county level. These delegates elect others to serve at provincial and municipal levels who in turn appoint members of the full legislature. At each level, party committees play a progressively larger role in the selection of candidates, hence the perception of the NPC as rubber-stamp legislature.
In between the Congress’s annual meeting every spring, legislative affairs are run by the NPC Standing Committee, which comprises about 150 NPC members and is currently headed by Wu Bangguo.
The NPC also endorses the president’s nominee for a premier to head the State Council, a cabinet of around 50 members representing all government departments and agencies. Through individual ministerial portfolios, the State Council is responsible for implementing government policy at national and provincial levels.
In keeping with tradition, current Premier Wen Jiabao is also a PSC member and – as is the case with the posts of party leader and president – both he and key State Council members are effectively appointed following discussions within the party hierarchy.