Meet China’s Next Leaders

As the CCP’s 18th National Congress grows ever nearer, China’s top brass are continuing their secretive seaside assembly at Beidaihe. AFP reports from the resort-town and longtime CCP rendezvous, used for closed-door meetings since Mao’s tenure:

 As holidaymakers crowded beaches at the Chinese seaside resort of Beidaihe, a heightened security presence was the only sign that China’s most senior leaders had gathered for their annual talks.

[…]Analysts say the secretive, month-long discussions are especially important this summer as Communist party chiefs prepare to pass the baton to a new generation of leaders in the autumn.

They are also dealing with the fall-out from one of the worst scandals to hit the party in decades — the downfall of Bo Xilai, an ambitious but divisive politician whose wife confessed in court to murdering a British businessman.

Beidaihe residents told AFP this week security was unusually tight, with roads closed and police performing spot-checks on people entering the town by car or rail.

One topic that is surely in attention at the coastal retreat is the upcoming leadership transition, where Hu Jintao will step down as the country’s paramount leader, and the 18th Politburo Standing Committee will be elected. An article in South China Morning Post claims that while the transition will likely be “orderly and peaceful”, the man on-deck for Hu’s position in the party lineup will have a variety of obstacles ahead of him:

But Xi [Jinping, Hu’s forecasted successor]’s leadership will be far from smooth, not only because the mainland’s development is at a critical turning point and the party’s legitimacy is facing mounting challenges due to the rampant official corruption and the rising gap between rich and poor.

Xi will also have to grapple with a new kind of politics in which the decision-making process will be increasingly complicated by various factions within the top leadership.

A case in point is that after Xi takes over, he will face a situation unique in the history of the party in which two of his retired predecessors are still alive and healthy and can wield considerable influence through their residual power and their supporters within the leadership. Ironically, this should be seen as a major progression from the large part of the party’s history in which the abnormal leadership succession had proved to be the single biggest source of instability.

In an article for Foreign Policy, Isaac Stone Fish looks back five years to the 17th National Congress, when the 9 men at the center of the CCP assembled in an order reflecting the hierarchy of power, announcing to the world the official roster of the 17th Politburo Standing Committee. Then, speculating at what the lineup might look like this time around, he provides details about some lesser-known potential members of the Standing Committee:

If tradition holds, another group of men will again stroll across the stage in October during the 18th National Congress, this time led by Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to replace Hu Jintao, followed by Li Keqiang, whom party watchers expect will replace Wen Jiabao as premier. The next seven spots (or five or six; Hu Jintao is reportedly pushing for a smaller Standing Committee so that he maintains more influence after he steps down) are likely open and fiercely contested by roughly a dozen powerful men — and one woman. Wang Yang, party secretary of Guangdong, China’s most popular province and the subject of a profile in Foreign Policy’s latest issue is one contender. The outside world knows little about Wang and the other personalities or their standings in the party elite. “The deals are so complicated,” says Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the Brookings Institution. “We don’t know the facts involved. We know one hundredth of what [the party elite] knows.” With those caveats in mind, here are five people besides Xi and Li whose smiling, stage-managed faces we might see on that red stage in October.

Also see prior CDT coverage of China’s upcoming leadership transition, the challenges facing the party as it prepares for that transition, CCP gatherings at Beidaihe, and those who might be among the 5th generation of CCP leaders.