China’s Next Leaders Jockey for Position (Updated)

Several contenders for leadership positions when the 5th generation of party leaders take power in 2012 are campaigning during this year’s NPC meetings. From the Wall Street Journal:

They include Bo Xilai, Communist Party secretary of the big city of Chongqing, and rival Wang Yang, his predecessor in the job and now governor of southern Guangdong province.

Nicknamed the “two cannons,” both have pushed showy slogans campaigns and tried to connect with people at the grass roots. Mr. Bo, for example, has launched a crackdown on organized crime that has turned him into a popular hero.

Both men also aspire to a seat in the country’s most powerful body, the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, China’s top policy body. “The change in leadership might feel remote, but Chinese politicians are already beginning to take action,” says Li Cheng, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank. “The main contenders for the top positions in 2012 are already engaged in Chinese-style political campaigns.”
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For outsiders, the result is likely to be less a change in policy in China than a change in style. While many of China’s new leaders are likely to be as bland as their predecessors, some are making tentative stabs at public-relations campaigns. That could herald a new, more populist style of governance in contrast to the largely technocratic bent of China’s previous leaders.

The Wall Street Journal blog also notes some of the memorable comments made by delegates to this year’s “two sessions” meetings of the NPC and CPPCC. AP also reports on how micro-blogs are influencing the sessions and the delegates.

Meanwhile, a China Daily headline nicely sums up the annual legislative session: “Problems remain as China strives for harmony.

See also a Wall Street Journal video report, “China Sets Stage for Power Shift”:

Update: The Financial Times looks at Bo Xilai’s quest for a top-tier position and its implications for politics in China:

Mr Bo’s campaign is lifting the lid on the ties between local party officials and the growing gangster culture. But its impact is being felt well beyond the provinces. For a start, it indicates that the battle for the senior party leadership succession in 2012 – potentially a turbulent period, when as many as seven of the nine members will be replaced – is gearing up. If the governor of an American state launched such an attention-grabbing agenda, it would be assumed he was running for national office – which is exactly what Mr Bo is doing.

“He is trying to perform his way back to Beijing,” says Huang Jing, a professor at the National University of Singapore, of the former commerce minister. “It is a well-calculated but risky gamble to get into the ‘fifth generation’ [post-2012] leadership.”

Mr Bo’s very public battles could also shift the way politics is practised in a system dominated by back-room deals and consensus decisions. President Hu Jintao exemplifies a certain type of politician – competent, dour and skilled at working the party’s inner bureaucracy. By appealing for popular support over the heads of the political elite, the charismatic and media-savvy man from Chongqing is charting new territory – call it populism with Chinese characteristics.

March 9, 2010 3:08 AM
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Categories: Politics