As NPC Convenes, Factions Jockey to Solidify Power

With the 12th annual National People’s Congress opening in Beijing, the Chinese government is set to conclude the second stage of its once-a-decade leadership transition when Xi Jinping takes over as president and Li Keqiang takes over as Premier. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the meetings offer the new Xi administration a chance to outline concrete plans for anticipated reforms:

The Parliament meeting will be an early gauge of the new leaders’ commitment to carrying out broad changes in China’s economy that Messrs. Hu and Wen talked about for years, but did little to accomplish—remaking the economy so it relies more on domestic demand and less on investment in capital-intensive industries at home and demand for Chinese exports abroad.

[...] One major change that Parliament is expected to approve is a plan to streamline the State Council—or cabinet—by, among other things, merging the Railways Ministry into the Ministry of Transport, a move that many analysts believe is linked to a high-speed train crash in 2011, and the dismissal the same year of the railways minister, Liu Zhijun, on corruption charges.

Agencies monitoring food safety—another issue of huge public concern following a string of scandals in recent years—may also be merged, and greater powers given to the State Oceanic Administration, the agency responsible for maritime patrols around disputed islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea, according to Chinese academics familiar with the plans.

Chinese experts say the restructuring is designed to cut down red tape, enhance interdepartmental coordination and break apart vested interests in the bureaucracy. But many analysts are skeptical, arguing that more fundamental changes are needed, such as forcing all officials to declare their financial assets publicly, to enhance government transparency and accountability.

The meetings will also announce key personnel postings, and some insiders are anticipating that more liberal members of the Communist Party elite, including Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, who were not nominated to the current Politburo Standing Committee, may be named to top government posts, according to the WSJ report. Reuters looks at the factional battles taking place behind the scenes to decide who will take over the Standing Committee in 2017, when five of the current members will retire:

Two main factions are competing for power within the Standing Committee. Members of the “Shanghai Gang”, headed by former Party chief Jiang Zemin, have connections to China’s commercial capital. The other main faction, the “Tuanpai,” is led by outgoing President Hu Jintao. Its members, like him, cultivated their careers in the Communist Youth League.

Most of the Politburo members and provincial Party secretaries eligible for promotion in the next term in 2017 have experience in the Communist Youth League, according to data from “Connected China”(connectedchina.reuters.com), a Reuters site that tracks the careers and connections of China’s top leaders.

Although the Politburo appointed in November shows strong ties to Jiang Zemin, analysts say outgoing President Hu Jintao’s Communist Youth League faction will gain the upper hand over the longer term.

A third group has also ascended rapidly – the princelings, or privileged children of revolutionary leaders. Key princelings include Xi and Politburo Standing Committee members Yu Zhengsheng, Wang Qishan and Zhang Dejiang.

For more on the agenda of the NPC meetings, see, “What to Expect at the 12th National People’s Congress” from CDT.