China Watched for Sign of New Leader (Updated)
As the Central Committee of the CCP gathers for its annual meeting in Beijing, outside observers are wondering what will happen to Xi Jinping, who many believe is slated to take over the party’s helm after Hu Jintao. From the New York Times:
Analysts will watch the meeting, the annual plenary session of the party’s 17th Central Committee, to see whether Vice President Xi Jinping is given the additional title of vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Such an appointment would be seen as a confirmation that Mr. Xi, 56, is set to succeed President Hu Jintao when Mr. Hu’s second term ends in 2012. Any Chinese leader must have experience in leading the military, which is under party control. Mr. Hu was awarded the same post in 1999, three years before he became the party’s general secretary in 2002.
Yet Chinese politics are so opaque that no outsider can say for certain that Mr. Xi, the presumed heir, will win the position — or that there will be a mark against him should he not.
“There is no foregone conclusion these days,” said a political analyst at a Beijing institution tied to the Communist Party.
Many ordinary Chinese and some officials believe they have been shunted aside by Party elites more concerned with overseas corporate takeovers and access to oil and strategic minerals than the widening income gap.
To counter this dissatisfaction, the Hu administration may restart local elections, expanding the means by which dissent can take place within the Party. The Party may also announce measures to discipline cadres who employ power for private purposes. The well-oiled state-run media machine has run stories hinting of a coming full-scale crackdown on corruption in Party ranks, as well as a requirement that cadres declare their private and family assets publicly. Even if those rumors are simply smoke, they must reflect discontent among some Party officials who feel themselves excluded from decision-making.
The other major issue on the agenda concerns the future leadership of the Party. Xi Jinping, the current Vice President, heads the shortlist to succeed Mr. Hu as party secretary in 2012, followed closely by Vice Premier Li Keqiang. Many analysts outside China expect that Messrs. Xi and Li will ascend together, sharing the same sort of arrangement that their predecessors President Hu and Premier Wen enjoyed: a division of responsibilities and a tacit agreement not to challenge the prevailing political protocol. Policy disagreements are allowed, so long as power plays are eschewed.
But the problem might turn out to be chemistry. Messrs. Hu and Wen appear to genuinely respect and even like each other. It is not at all clear whether Messrs. Xi and Li can work out the same understanding, for they are competitors whose time in the political saddle has not been especially long. They are each expanding their networks inside the Party but they are still working out whom they can trust at the apex of the political system.
Its status as a top leadership retreat has been downgraded by party chief Hu Jintao, who has promoted a more egalitarian approach and wants to nurture the party’s populist image.
The changes the communist resort has gone through reflect somewhat the changes that the world’s largest communist party has seen over the past five years. There are fewer party slogans on its laid-back streets lined up with seafood restaurants and fewer state limousines bringing the whole town to a standstill. And there is a prevailing sense that economic expediency rules the day.
Update: See “China’s Communist Party Meets to Hone Survival Skills” from Reuters:
The Central Committee full session, or plenum, will meet in closed session until Friday, and official media reports have said the some 200 full members will discuss “inner-party democracy”, a term for making decision-making more open and rule-based.
Behind that stolid theme lies the leadership’s fears that its control could eventually slip as Chinese society becomes increasingly wealthy, fragmented and assertive.
“Recently, mass incidents in some areas have exposed the indifference and weak governing abilities of a few leading officials,” said a commentary on the Plenum in Outlook Weekly, a magazine issued by the official Xinhua news agency.
“If a ruling party’s members cannot correctly handle the power in their hands, become high-handed and divorced from the masses, this ruling party will ultimately be rejected by the people,” said the commentary.