China’s Communist Party Opens Most Important Conclave of Year Amid Jockeying for Succession

This week China’s Central Committee meets in Beijing where the next generation of leaders will be debated behind closed doors. From the Washington Post:

The 200-plus Central Committee members and more than 150 alternates drawn from the government, the provinces and the military are meeting in Beijing at a time when the focus is mainly on sustaining economic growth and employment while battling politically sensitive inflation.

It is also trying to control high housing prices and address festering social and economic problems that have caused unrest in rural areas and the industrial heartland in the south.

Party elites will also try to dampen infighting over who will lead China when President Hu Jintao and many in his collective leadership must retire a year from now. Hu will be seeking to reinforce his position and ensuring that his allies are secured key positions.

Meanwhile the New York Times points out that a photo published on the front page of the People’s Daily may indicate that Liu Yandong, one of the highest ranked women in the Communist Party, will secure a position in the powerful Standing Committee of the Central Committee when leadership changes hands next year:

The Communist Party’s Central Committee holds its annual plenum this weekend in Beijing, and the formal agenda involves promoting Chinese culture to bolster the nation’s soft power. But the topic certain to be on everyone’s lips is that oligarchy, the Standing Committee of the Politburo, and who will rise to join it when its membership turns over.

The answer, like almost everything about the Standing Committee, is tantamount to a state secret. So political junkies grasp at straws like the People’s Daily photograph, with its unstated pecking order, to divine who might run China after Mr. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao step down in 2012.

“It’s a one-party system, so all the politicking takes place internally,” Alice Miller, a visiting professor at Stanford and a leading expert on China’s leadership, said in a telephone interview. “You don’t have to campaign for public approval. But you do have to politick all the internal constituencies to get approval.”

[...] Of the nine Standing Committee members, Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen are among seven who are expected to depart as they pass the party’s unofficial retirement age, 68. Mr. Xi is all but certain to take Mr. Hu’s slot as president and general secretary, and a vice premier versed in economic matters, Li Keqiang, is likely to succeed Mr. Wen as premier and Standing Committee member.

But that leaves five more vacancies on a body that, arguably, is second only to the White House in global influence. Who they might be is a matter of intense speculation, but little certainty.

Read more about Liu Yandong.