Grabs for Power Behind Plan to Shrink Elite Circle

With next week’s arrival of the long-awaited 18th Party Congress, which will decide China’s next generation of leaders, observers are trying to predict the final line-up, especially of the powerful . While many of the top positions appear to be settled, with slated to take over the presidency and party leadership and Li Keqiang expected to be named Premier, the Standing Committee positions are still being contested, according to media reports. The New York Times reports on the last-minute wrangling and why many are predicting that the size of the committee will be reduced to seven from nine:

Alice L. Miller, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Hoover Institution, said at a recent talk in Washington that a shrinking of the committee represents an attempt by the party to address shortcomings. “The most compelling one is that there seems to be a trend in policy stagnation,” she said, “an inability to arrive at decisions collectively within the standing committee that I think shows up in a number of different ways.”

Yet the move to trim the committee, many experts argue, has exacerbated factional wrangling over its incoming membership. Mr. Xi and Li Keqiang, pegged to be the next prime minister, are virtually guaranteed seats. Other favorites now are Zhang Dejiang, a vice prime minister and party secretary of Chongqing; Wang Qishan, another vice prime minister; Zhang Gaoli, party chief of Tianjin; and Liu Yunshan, director of the propaganda bureau. With that lineup, the remaining seat is expected to go to either Li Yuanchao, head of the Organization Department, or Yu Zhengsheng, party chief of Shanghai. Both had been strong contenders until recent weeks, when word spread that either could be excluded.

The idea of shrinking the committee was first laid out in discussions in the summer of 2011, but it did not emerge as a plan until this year, said a central government media official with ties to “princeling” families from the Communist aristocracy of revolutionary leaders and their descendants.

“The entire top echelon came to a unified viewpoint on this general direction, including former standing committee members,” he said. “The consensus was that greater unity and efficiency was needed at the top.”