Princelings Hold Sway Now, But What About 2017?

Reuters’ Benjamin Kang Lim takes stock of the Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee, where power has shifted from the technocrats to the “princeling” faction under the recently-completed leadership transition, and ponders what it means:

Of the seven men who now comprise the Communist Party’s new politburo standing committee, the apex of political power in China, four are members of “the red aristocracy”, led by the new general secretary of the party, Xi Jinping.

The thriving of the princelings should not be a surprise, analysts and party insiders say. Rarely in its six decades in power has the party been under more stress. Public anger over widespread corruption, widening income inequality and vast environmental degradation have chipped away at its legitimacy.

The party’s over-arching goal is to maintain its grip on the nation, and moving so many princelings into top positions is akin to taking out a political insurance policy.

“Fundamentally, princelings advocate maintaining one-party dictatorship,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator. “This is (their) bottom line.”

With five Standing Committee members expected to retire in 2017 due to an age limit, it remains to be seen whether the “princelings” can hold their slight edge on the Party’s top ruling body. The New York Times’ Edward Wong calls out recently-promoted Hu Chunhua and Sun Zhengcai, neither “princelings,” who may have an inside  edge on an open Standing Committee seat in five years:

Mr. Hu’s rising star got brighter this month when he was named one of 15 new members on the party’s 25-seat Politburo. Political analysts say he could be on track to ascend to the Politburo’s elite Standing Committee at the next party congress, in 2017. That would put him in the running for the top party job — and the mantle of leader of China — when Xi Jinping, the new party chief, steps down after his expected two five-year terms.

Mr. Hu is the most prominent of a clutch of political stars known as China’s “sixth generation.” They were handpicked by party leaders and elders years ago to succeed Mr. Xi’s fifth generation (the first generation was that of Mao Zedong). Now, those politicians are being slotted into some of the most important posts across China.

Political insiders say Mr. Hu will probably be sent soon to Guangdong, a coastal province that is central to China’s export economy. His closest rival, Sun Zhengcai, whom Mr. Locke also met this year, was posted earlier this month to Chongqing, the booming southwest municipality of 31 million once run by Bo Xilai, the disgraced party aristocrat.

If Mr. Hu and Mr. Sun both make it onto the Standing Committee in 2017, they would be in position to vie for the top two party posts in 2022, which would confer on them the state titles of president or premier.

For more on Sun and Hu’s prospects, see ‘Chongqing, a Slippery Stepping Stone‘ on CDT.


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