The CER cover story for October included, perhaps unsurprisingly, a discussion of political developments taking place in China, with particular reference to the Communist Party Congress. The problem with previewing these kinds of events is that it is very hard to distinguish truths from falsehoods and rumors from likelihoods.
Now the congress has actually begun, talk is rife about who may be elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee (which guides the Politburo, which guides the Communist Party, which guides the country, which… either way, if you have a place on the standing committee, you are well positioned to achieve your professional goals and probably your personal ones as well). The (relative) young bloods who get promoted will automatically become potential future presidents and premiers.
In Li Keqiang, party secretary in Henan province, and Xi Jinping, party secretary in Shanghai, we have two supposed front runners from opposite sides of the track. While Li comes from humble roots in Anhui province and rose through the ranks of the Chinese Communist Youth League, Xi had a comparatively privileged upbringing as son of former Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun.
Should Xi make it on to the standing committee – opinion is divided as to whether he will or, if he doesn’t, whether he’ll have missed his shot at succeeding Hu Jintao – he would be at the front of a large cluster of newly promoted “princelings” (children of former party elders). Writing in the most recent Jamestown Brief, Dr Cheng Li of Hamilton College in New York suggests there could be as many as eight or nine princelings in the next politburo.
But what does this mean? In a country still rife with corruption where the public tend to perceive government officials as on the make and on the take, it could be argued that elevating people distinguished by birth rather than by quality (although there are numerous effective administrators among the princelings) will only serve to exacerbate social tensions.
Update: The first cut’s already been done. The 200+ members of the Central Committee have been selected, and a few predictable faces aren’t in the lineup, including Wu Yi and vice president Zeng Qinghong. Standing Committee lineup is out later toda – the excitement is palpable!
Update 2: The nine-member Standing Committee’s been announced. The four new members are: Xi Jinping, Shanghai party boss; Li Keqiang, Liaoning party boss; He Guoqiang, head of the party’s organization department; Zhou Yongkang, public security minister. They join Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Wu Bangguo and Jia Qinglin.