Chinese Political Legitimacy in Transition

In a short article posted on the East Asia Forum’s website, professor of political science Baogang Guo discusses China’s continually changing policy trends. As China prepares for an impending leadership transition, Guo compares the policies of a China bent solely on efficiency-based economic growth to ones focused on equity, and predicts that China’s fifth-generation of leaders will work to reinforce these new goals:

[…D]ecades of efficiency-driven development have created new social problems and new political forces that the old system of political legitimisation can no longer accommodate. It is this urgent need to strengthen the regime’s original and utilitarian justification that has resulted in the latest round of policy changes.

The power transition from the so-called third generation to the fourth has created the momentum for this major reorientation. Under Hu Jintao’s leadership, a new set of governing philosophies based on ‘scientific development’ and ‘harmonious society’ has replaced Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatism. A new group of non-engineer elites is steadily ascending to power, and the upcoming 18th Party Congress will certainly accelerate this transition and codify the new governing philosophy.

If Deng’s reform was a major breakthrough in contemporary Chinese politics, this ‘new politics of equity’ is simply a process of rationalising that breakthrough. The new problems produced by the economic breakthrough have triggered the latest political efforts to find novel policy solutions and formulate an alternative development model. These new policies will necessitate many changes in the existing political institutions, such as ‘big ministry reform’, the endorsement of deliberative democracy, and changes to the election law to embrace equal representation of rural and urban populations. Changes will also become necessary in the country’s leadership styles, as evidenced by the new slogan ‘governing for the people’.

A brief from the progressive U.S. policy think tank Center for American Progress provides a comprehensive summary of the leadership transition from the context of U.S.-China relations. The brief outlines the structure of the Politburo and Standing Committee, compares some of the rising cadres and possible public responses to their appointment, describes the new challenges for this next generation of leaders, and looks at the growing ideological divide within the party:

The Chinese Communist Party convenes a National Party Congress every five years to announce new national policy directives and make critical personnel changes. This meeting takes on extra importance when there is a big personnel change ahead, particularly when that change involves the party secretary and the premier, China’s top party and government positions, respectively. The next congress (the 18th since 1949) will occur in November 2012, with both of those positions changing hands alongside a number of other key personnel changes. In short, this will be a particularly large and important leadership transition.

[…]When this transition is complete, the United States will confront a sea of new faces in China. These new leaders will steer the country through some of its biggest challenges, which could include major political reform. The next 10 to 15 years will be a turbulent period in China, and these new leaders will determine how that turbulence will evolve and how it will impact U.S.-China relations. This issue brief looks at the reasons why this political transition matters so much to our nation, the challenges and divides the new party leadership will have to navigate, and what U.S. policymakers should do as these new leaders react to the rough waters ahead.

[…]To maintain a steady and cooperative bilateral relationship, we will have to get smarter about how we approach China to address these issues when they do emerge. In a divided China, there will likely be someone on our side, and identifying those internal foes and allies should be step one in any potential bilateral conflict.

CDT previously relayed parts one and two of an NPR series on the leadership transition. The third and final part of the series focuses on Li Keqiang, the man likely to become China’s next Premier:

The man who’s expected to become China’s president next year, Xi Jinping, is considered a princeling, the son of a prominent Chinese political figure. But the man who’s likely to become premier, Li Keqiang, comes from very different stock.

The son of a minor party official, Li worked as a farmer for four years, before studying law at university.

“Welcome home,” say students jostling to shake Li’s hand as he visited his alma mater Peking University last year. He’s grinning, visibly delighted. “I’m extremely happy to come back. Peking University educated me.”

And it’s this education that makes him stand out from China’s past leaders. Li entered Peking University in 1978, when it was a hotbed of student activism. He studied law. He even translated a book on due process by Lord Denning, the famous British judge.

Also see prior CDT coverage of the upcoming leadership transition and of the fifth-generation of CCP leaders.