CCP Faces Challenges Ahead of Leadership Transition

With China’s top leadership gathering at the seaside resort of Beidaihe ahead of the 18th Party Congress, Christopher Johnson looks at the many complications behind the upcoming transition of power in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal. From Foreign Policy:

This year, the ostensible goal of the meeting is to achieve consensus on a new slate of top party leaders. But that agenda is complicated by the fact that the leadership is gathering in the shadow of the Bo Xilai scandal. The party formally dumped Bo from the Politburo in April, after he was tripped up by his own deceit, abuse of power, and unbridled ambition. Granted, the leadership took a big step last week by formally charging Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, with the murder of Neil Heywood, a British businessman who worked for the couple as a fixer. But Gu was always the low-hanging fruit, marked as the sacrificial lamb from the beginning, when the state media announced her as a formal suspect in the Heywood killing.

Yet, unlike in April, there was no simultaneous announcement concerning Bo, suggesting he remains adrift in the netherworld of the party’s extrajudicial detention system. What is more, it remains unclear what will happen to Bo’s erstwhile security chief, Wang Lijun, whose flight to a U.S. consulate in February touched off the whole scandal in the first place. The lack of synchronization suggests moving forward on Gu may be a holding action rather than the beginning of the final act. If so, the CCP’s early hopes of wrapping up the entire Bo case, and all of its unbecoming implications, well ahead of the fall turnover have hit a snag.

In dragging its feet on resolving Bo’s fate, the CCP has missed an opportunity to demonstrate, both at home and abroad, that the party’s leadership is marching in lockstep into the transition. Its failure to make speedier progress is curious, as important interim steps could have been taken by now. A simple announcement, similar to that on Gu, that the party was handing Bo over to the state judicial authorities for formal prosecution would allay any lingering doubts among party insiders or foreign investors by sending an unambiguous signal that the leadership has at least agreed to an initial list of charges.

Instead, Hu and other top leaders have reportedly been messaging with internal edicts to argue that Bo’s case be treated as a breach of law and party regulations rather than as an attempt to split the party. Trying to limit Bo’s transgressions to the narrower allegation of violations of party discipline helps avoid destabilizing factional splits, but a flurry of recent reports suggesting that he has stopped cooperating with interrogators could make any resolution even more illusory.

In the run-up to the leadership transition, the Communist Party is also working to make itself relevant to the younger generation, who primarily see the CCP as a step on the ladder to career success. To that end, the Communist Youth League, which nurtured current leaders, including President Hu Jintao, is now investing in online companies. From Bloomberg:

Now, the Communist Youth League is an investor in online entertainment. It partnered with Chinese gaming firm PowerNet Technology in 2005 to develop a game in which players repel Japanese invaders during World War II, harking back to one of the most celebrated chapters in party history.

The Youth League’s investment arm owns a stake in PowerNet subsidiary Shenzhen Zhongqingbaowang Network Technology Co. (300052), known as Shenzhen ZQ, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Rather than as a source of ideological inspiration, China’s young have flocked to the party as a networking tool and resume builder in an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises.

“The reality here is we have to focus on our own career path,” said Brook, a 23-year-old party member who refused to give her Chinese name for fear of punishment from the government. “Ten to 20 years ago people really wanted to join. Now it’s not ‘We want to,’ but ‘We have to.’”

Read more about the 18th Party Congress and the incoming 5th generation of CCP leadership, via CDT.