Cake Theory: Ideological Divisions and the Future of the CCP

NPR’s Louisa Lim highlights the increasingly public ideological cleavage within China’s Communist Party, marked by the leftist Chongqing model and the market-driven Guangdong model, and assesses the debate’s implications for the party’s 2012 leadership succession and beyond:

Qiu of the Unirule Institute of Economics believes that the existence of the Chongqing model and the Guangdong model, with their different constituencies, has sharpened the debate.

“These two models have made people conscious of the factions. They will seriously consider which model they support,” Qiu says. “An even bolder prediction is that maybe the Communist Party could split along those lines, and become two parties: one for the middle class, let’s call it a Liberal Party; the other for the lower class, the Democratic Party.”

As China’s Communist leadership celebrated the anniversary of the 1911 revolution, it’s no longer monolithic. Nowadays the Communist Party is a seething mass of different — sometimes overlapping — interest groups. That means it could be harder for the next generation of leaders to make policy.

“My conclusion is I don’t think the Communist Party can settle upon one political program that everyone will follow,” Qiu says.

Last week, Chongqing’s Bo Xilai responded to criticism over his ideological campaigns and a style of governance that the rest of China has noticed but been hesitant to adopt. From The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report:

In a presentation to a visiting group of editors of provincial newspapers attending a conference in Chongqing (in Chinese), Bo defended his governance of the municipality, saying that the media focus on revolutionary nostalgia (such as singing red songs) was “a total misreading” of what he was up to in Chongqing. Bo blasted back at doubters and dissenters in the Party, asking if perhaps “some comrades have misunderstood, feeling that development of the economy and improve people’s livelihood might be a contradiction?”

Bo insisted that his administration was focused on “people-oriented development,” and that the initiatives he had implemented had been “effective in improving people’s livelihood, not only by mobilizing the enthusiasm of the masses, but also by effectively promoting consumption and promoting development,” while “shrinking the wealth disparity between the rich and the poor.” Chongqing, Bo insisted, was attempting to “achieve the ideal of socialism by carrying out a specific and concrete exploration,” not something abstract or whimsical.

In light of a New York Times report last week on Chongqing’s plans to release a series of books and a “Godfather”-style movie to chronicle Bo’s 2009 anti-corruption campaign, The Diplomat examines the potential fallout in Beijing as Bo angles for a seat on the Politburo’s Standing Committee:

Corruption is certainly not an off-limits topic in Chinese politics. These days, top leaders routinely raise the issue in speeches, and the 2009 Chongqing trials weren’t especially politically dangerous – they were a purely local affair, while investigators in cases like the Chen Liangyu and Lai Changxing scandals reached officials at the ministerial level, requiring backing from powerful people in Beijing.

But, if the Times has described the coming series accurately, Bo has gone a step farther in a dangerous direction. Major corruption cases are often prosecuted harshly, but discussion is quickly hushed up and turned away from systemic failures within the Communist Party. By directing Huang to focus on the role of officials and opening secret archives, Bo has taken a major step away from the Party’s ordinary damage control methods – and departed from the President Hu Jintao pattern of modest deference to collective decision-making. While talking frankly about official corruption seems like a sure bet for making outspoken Chinese bloggers into Bo fans, taking on the Party’s problems independently is a terrible way to make friends at the top.

See also previous CDT coverage of the opposing leadership styles of Bo Xilai, Guangdong’s Wang Yang, and the jockeying for succession as next year’s leadership change approaches.

November 6, 2011 10:25 PM
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