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China: 18th Party Congress- Change of Guards,But No Change in Policy

It is undeniable that the transfer of power to the fifth generation leadership at the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (Beijing, 8-15 November 2012) has been smooth and orderly; especially the rule providing for retirement of cadres above the age of 68 has been adhered to. As anticipated, Xi Jinping , the son of the party revolutionary leader and former Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, has succeeded Hu Jintao as party general secretary as well as Chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission (CMC). He is poised to take over as President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in March 2013. A Xi Jinping era has indeed begun in China. It is highly significant that the transition has taken place unaffected by the political uncertainty that has come to prevail in the country since March 2012 as a result of the ouster from the party of Bo Xilai, once considered a strong candidate to the party’s top echelons, ostensibly on charges of discipline violation.

2. It is natural that the focus has turned towards the following key questions with respect to the new leadership – What is its character? Will it be stable and united? What are its ideological, economic, political, military and foreign policy priorities? Is it capable of meeting future challenges before the country? What follows is an attempt to address them and come to possible conclusions.

Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC)

Nominated to the newly constituted PBSC, top most policy making body in China, are seven members; in the order listed, they are Xi Jinping (59), Li Keqiang (57), Zhang Dejiang( 66), Yu Zhengsheng (67), Liu Yunshan (65), Wang Qishan(64) and Zhang Gaoli(66). For an analysis of the composition of the new PBSC line up, a look into the political background of the seven members may be of help.

Xi Jinping, became a PBSC member in 2007, Vice-Chairman of the CMC in 2008 and the PRC Vice-President in 2010. He hails from Hebei province, studied Chemical engineering , holds a doctorate degree in law from the elite Qinghua university and was once a personal secretary to the then Defence Minister Geng Biao. He was sent to the country side during the Cultural Revolution and served in Shaanxi province. Xi had work experience in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and is considered close to former party chief Jiang Zemin and former Vice-President Zeng Qinghong. Xi’s wife Peng Liiyuan is a folk singer and daughter Xi Mingze, is reportedly a student of Harvard university in the US.

Li Keqiang, who joined the PBSC in 2007 and became a vice premier in 2008, comes from Dingyuan county in Anhui province. He is expected to replace Wen Jiabao as Premier in March 2013. He holds a doctorate degree in economics from Beijing University. He worked as Secretary-General of the All China Students Federation and held position in the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League (CYL), a training ground for party cadres. Li has work experiences in Henan and Liaoning provinces and during the Cultural Revolution, did manual work in the Dongling production brigade in Anhui. Against his party background, Li is considered close to Hu Jintao, also a CYL leader in the past. His father was a county-level cadre and wife, Cheng Hong, teaches English in the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. His daughter is reportedly studying in the US.

Zhang Dejiang, entered the party politburo in 2002. He worked as Vice-Premier till March 2012 when he was asked to move over to Chongqing to become party secretary in place of disgraced Bo Xilai. He hails from Taian, Liaoning province and is expected to take over as Chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March 2013, replacing Wu Bangguo. His father Zhang Zhiyi was a military official in the rank of Major General. He is a graduate of Kim IL Sung University in Pyongyang. During the Cultural Revolution, he was sent to the country side to work in Wangqing County in Jilin province. He had work experiences in Liaoning and Jilin provinces; he was party secretary in Zhejiang (1998-2002) and Guangdong (2002-2007). In 2001, he opposed entry of private businessmen into the party through one of his articles. Zhang’s wife Xin Shusen is a former China Construction Bank official. He is considered a protégé of Jiang Zemin.

Yu Zhengsheng is Shanghai party chief since 2007. He hails from Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. He is expected to take over as Chairman of the Chinese Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in March 2013, in which capacity he may play an important role with respect to work relating to Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang . Yu majored in the subject of Ballistic Missile Automatic Control at the Harbin Military Engineering Institute. In 1970s, he worked in the Fourth Ministry of Machine Building Industry. While his grandfather was a KMT defence official, his father, Yu Qiwei, also known as Huang Jing, was the first husband of Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife. Yu worked under Jiang Zemin when the latter was head of the Ministry of Electronic Industry. In 1985, Yu’s elder brother, Yu Qiangsheng, a top intelligence official, defected to the US. Yu Zhengsheng is known to Deng Xiaoping’s son, Deng Pufang and when Jiang Zemin came to power in 1989, Yu was shifted from his post of Qingdao (Shandong) party secretary and moved over to Shanghai to head the party there, which looked like a promotion. Yu’s wife is Zhang Zhikai, a daughter of former PLA Major General Zhang Zhenhuan.

Liu Yunshan , is a member of the Secretariat of the party Central Committee and head of its publicity department. He hails from Xinzhou, Shanxi province. He studied in Beijing University and worked as a teacher and a Xinhua journalist in Inner Mongolia. He underwent manual labour in Sobugai rural commune in Inner Mongolia and held positions in the Inner Mongolia CYL. In early 90s, Liu moved to Beijing, took over as Deputy Director, Central Committee Publicity department and later as Director of the same department. His son, Liu Lefei, married to Jjia Leqing, a daughter of former State Security chief Jia Chunwang, heads the CITIC private equity firm in Beijing.

Wang Qishan is former vice premier in charge of economic, energy and financial affairs. He has been made chief of Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC). Born in Tianxin, he underwent manual labour in Fengzhuang commune in Yanan, Shaanxi. He is a History graduate of the Northwest University in US and in 1980s, he worked in China Rural Trust and Investment corporation, People’s Bank of China and China Construction Bank. He held party positions in Guangdong, Hainan and took over as Beijing Mayor in 2004. He was instrumental in organising Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. His wife Yao Mingshan is the daughter of former politburo member and Vice Premier Yao Yilin. Wang is a protégé of Jiang Zemin as well as former Premier Zhu Rongji. Since 2009, he has been taking part in the China-US Economic and Strategic Dialogues.

Zhang Gaoli , is party secretary in Tianxin since 2007. He is expected to take over as Vice-Premier in March 2003. Born in Jinjiang city, Fujian, he graduated from Xiamen University and specialised in the work related to oil industry. He worked for 12 years in Guangdong province; his career included postings in coastal and prosperous provinces including Shenzhen and Shandong. He contributed to the growth of Bo Hai hub, covering Tianxin and Beijing.

3. A study of biodata given above leads to following conclusions:

a) A factional imbalance is easily traceable in the new PBSC. Belonging to what can be called the faction of the Communist Youth League, Hu Jintao’s original base, are two – Li Keqiang , ranking No.2 and Liu Yunshan, listed at No 5 ( also close to Jiang Zemin). Four others are ‘princelings’, meaning leaders hailing from families of veteran revolutionaries or of high ranking officials, who are also Jjiang Zemin’s protégés – Xi Jinping, ranking No.1, the Chongqing party secretary Zhang Dejiang at No.3, the Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng at No.4 and Tianxin party secretary Wang Qishan at No.6. The seventh, Zhang Gaoli, though not a ‘princeling’, is close to Jiang Zemin. A common aspect concerning the new PBSC members is that they were born in Mao era, say in late 40s or early 50 and that they spent time in the country side during their youth days.This is certain to influence their political thinking. b) The new PBSC has five new comers, marking a 71% turnover in the total PBSC strength. c) The average age of members of new body is 63.4, slightly above the figure of 62 for the previous PBSC. d) With respect to qualifications, six new PBSC members are recipients of graduate or doctorate degrees in subjects like law, economics and history. Wang Dejiang is the only technocrat in contrast to the situation in the previous body with seven out of nine members having been technocrats. Three of the present PBSC – Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Zhang Dejiang- studied in the elite Qinghua, Beijing and Kim Il Sung universities respectively. e) There is a wider regional representation in the new PBSC than what was seen in the past. In 2002, the leaders with Shanghai background were prominent in the PBSC, though that was rectified to some extent in 2007. (f) Except Li Kejiang and Liu Yunshan, the rest in the new PBSC have connections with State-owned enterprises (SOEs). g) All members of the new PBSC, like what was seen in the 17th party congress, belong to majority Han nationality; there is no minority representation. Implications of this for national unity are obvious. h) The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has no representation in the new PBSC; nevertheless, there are two having some PLA connections- Xi Jinping and Zhang Dejiang. The last time when the PBSC had a military member (Gen Liu Huaqing) was during the 14th CCP Congress in 1992-97. The situation confirms the prevailing policy trends in China towards keeping the army away from politics and making it more and more professionalized, while allowing no compromise on the principle of ‘party commanding the gun’. i) Why the PBSC membership was reduced to seven this time, as compared to the figure of 9, in the 17th CCP Congress? There is no official answer yet. It is believed that the aim has been to make decision making more consensus-based. It may be recalled that the PBSC had 7 members during the 14th and 15th CCP Congresses, held respectively in 1992 and 1997. During the 16th Congress in 2002, the figure went up to 9, which was maintained in the following congress also in 2007. j) The chiefs of the CCP’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLC), responsible for intelligence and security matters, were PBSC members in the past– Luo Gan in 2002 and Zhou Yongkang in 2007, whereas. Meng Jianzhu, the new PLC head is not in the PBSC, but only in the politburo. This may sound some downgrading of PLC’s position in the ruling hierarchy; but the correctness of such reasoning has to be tested further at a time when the PRC perceives serious internal and security challenges. k) The inclusion of Yu Zhengsheng in the new PBSC is intriguing considering the fact that his brother, a Chinese intelligence official, defected to the US in 1985.


4. Conclusions on features of the new politburo are as under:

a) The factional balance appears to be even in the 25-member politburo. 12 of them can be identified as Jinag Zemin followers- Xi jinping, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Wang Qishan, Zhang Gaoli, all PBSC members; Ma Kai (66) , Wang Huning (57 , Xu Qiliang (62) , Sun Zhengcai (49) , Zhang Chunxian (59 , Meng Jianzhu (65) and Han Zheng(58). On the other had, there appear to be 11 Hu Jintao loyalists – Li Keqiang, Liu Yandong (f) (67) , Liu Qibao(59) Sun Chunlan(f) (62 ) , Li Jianguo(66), Li Yuanchao (62) , Wang Yang(67) , Fan Chanlong (65), Zhao Leji (55), Hu Chunhua (49) and Guo Jinlong (65). Regarding the remaining two, Liu Yunshan is close to both Hu and Jiang; unclear is the position of Li Zhanshu (62), (Director, CCP General Office). b) The inclusion in the politburo, not in the PBSC, of three CYL allies of Hu Jintao – the party organisation department chief Li Yuanchao , Guangdong party head Wang Yang, and State Councillor Liu Yandong , is being viewed by some as a setback to Hu’s influence and a signal to rise of conservatism in the post-Congress politics. Such opinions seem to be hasty considering that when five of present PBSC members are due to retire after a decade, the three may enter the PBSC against arising vacancies. c) The average age of new politburo members is 61.1. Youngest are two- Inner Mongolia party chief Hu Junhua and Jilin provincial party head Sun Chunlan, both aged 49 and Hu loyalists with CYL connections. They are future leaders to watch, as they will still below the retirement age when Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang retire after a decade. d) Liu Yandong and Sun Chunlan are the only female representatives in the present politburo; the PBSC has no woman member. The former has also been nominated as one of the seven members of the party Central Committee Secretariat, responsible for managing day to day party affairs. e) The present politburo has two PLA representatives – Fan Chanlong and Xu Qiliang, both of whom are also Vice-Chairmen in the CMC. f) There is no representative of minority nationalities in the new body, as was seen in the case of PBSC.

Central Committee

5. The new Central Committee has 205 full members and 167 alternate members as against the respective figures of 204 and 167 in 2007. 64% of its members are new comers. Their average age is 56.1; the new body has 33 females and 39 representatives from ethnic minorities. 95.7 % of the 18th Central Committee members have studied at or above university levels. Representatives from SOEs in the new body number 9, as against 2 in 2007. The new central committee has 41 PLA members, as against the same figure in 2007. In terms of factional representation in it, the picture is unclear.

Central Military Commission (CMC)

6.The new CMC has 11 members including Xi Jinping as Chairman and Fan Chanlong and Xu Qiliang as two vice-chairmen. Others include generals Chang Wanquan, in charge of space programme, Fang Fenghui, chief of the General Staff Department, Zhang Yang, head of the General Political Department, Zhao Keshi , head of the General Logistics department and Zhang Youxia, chief of the General Armament Department. The presence of Hu and Jiang loyslists in the new CMC is well balanced. 36.4% of the new CMC members are ‘princelings’. 7 out of the 11 members are new. 7.Important has been Hu Jintao’s decision to step down from his leadership posts in the party as well as in the CMC and hand them over to the new incumbent Xi Jinping without delay. Hu’s predecessor,Jiang Zemin, on the other hand, held his post of CMC head for two years after he quit from his position of party chief. Notably, the new party supremo Xi Jinping , has openly praised Hu for his ‘ voluntary’ decision to hand over political and military powers. Also significant, are failures to enter the CMC of General Liu Yang , son of former President Liu Shaochi and political commissar of General Logistics department ,Gen Zhang Haiyang and Gen.Zhang Youhua, , all considered close to the disgraced leader Bo Xilai.

Central Discipline Inspection Commission(CDIC)

8. More than three fourth of the total 130-member CDIC, the high level anti-corruption body, to which the PBSC member Wang Qishan has been nominated, are new comers. 9. Overall, based on the political background of the leaders who have emerged out of the 18th CCP Congress, it looks beyond doubt that they belong to two factions – the ‘elitists’ under the influence of Jiang Zemin and ‘populists’ under that of Hu Jintao, each having developed different outlook and work styles. But there seems to be no valid ground to question their common faith in the main party policy of reforms and opening up. A factional clash on policies within the CCP can therefore be considered out of question, but organizationally, there is potential for a backlash within the party if an important anomaly remains unaddressed – the continuing over-domination of the ‘princelings’ in the party top bodies which goes against the principles declared in the CCP Congress stipulating ‘ selection of officials in a democratic, open , competitive and merits- based way’.

Policy indications

10. To understand the contours of likely policy directions for next five years under China’s fifth generation leadership, it would be necessary to closely examine the contents of the key policy document – the report of Hu Jintao, adopted at the 18th CCP Congress and officially released in full on 17 November 2012.

11. Worth mentioning first concerns the movement being seen in the party’s ideological stand to suit to new conditions. Reflecting it, is the announcement in the report that the ‘Scientific Outlook on Development’, together with “Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong thought, Deng Xiaoping theory and the important thought of Three Represents”, will be the “ long time theoretical guidance” for the CCP as it pursues the declared ‘central task of economic development’. A confirmation to this effect has come through an amendment in the party constitution approved in the congress; the Chinese official media have felt that in this way, the theoretical status of “Scientific Outlook on Development”, a contribution of Hu Jintao, already written into the party constitution, stands further upgraded.

12. What will be the features of economic model under the new leadership? The report has stressed the need for the party to follow “four cardinal principles’, of which the party leadership is the main, and maintain ‘vitality of state-owned sector of the economy’. It has stipulated that five aspects of China’s modernization drive should be developed – economy, politics, culture, society and ecology, the last one, figuring for the first time in a party congress document on overall development. It has set a target to double the country’s 2010 gross domestic product and per capita income of rural and urban citizens by 2020.

13. The report’s call to continue to carry out ‘reform of the political structure’ along with the caveat that China will never copy a western political system has been seen before also. However, the chances for intra-party democracy seem to be getting a boost, judging from the wish expressed in the report to make “people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice”. Interestingly, the official media (Global Times, 9 November 2012) have carried opinions on the opening day of the congress cautioning against the party taking ‘poor political decisions’ as Gorbachev did in the former Soviet Union and favouring the path of ‘wading across the stream by feeling the way’; indications are therefore towards the new leadership taking a cautious line towards political reforms in the party position.

14. The corruption issue, which has remained prominent in China for quite some time now, finds a strong echo in the report. In warning corrupt elements, its tone is more strident that the criticisms made in the past in China. It waned that “ if the issue is not handled well, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and fall of the state; all those who violate party disciplines and state laws whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they hold, must be brought to justice with out mercy”. Coming in the wake of Bo Xilai’s ouster from the party, the report is a pointer to the likely continuation of a tough policy of the new Xi Jinping leadership on the corruption issue.

15. The domestic policy implications of what has been said in the previous four paragraphs, are not difficult to see- under the new leadership of Xi Jinping, no change can be expected from the so far kept party line, called in China as that paving the way for ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. The CCP will thus remain supreme in the country and the state control over the economy will not to be diluted.

16. With respect to foreign policy, the report has expressed willingness to cooperate with other nations adding that China’s resolve is to protect its national interests, without yielding to any outside pressure. Indication is that this formulation will be followed by the new party leadership. With core-interests based Chinese foreign policy continuing, to be more specific Beijing maintaining a foreign policy course with a mix of win-win international diplomatic initiatives and an assertive approach towards on all sovereignty-related issues, there may not be any end soon to China’s tense relations with neighbouring countries having territorial disputes with it.

17. Military targets identified in the report could signal the likely directions of the new leadership in the defence front. Notable is the report’s announcement that “full military IT applications” will be completed by 2020. Significant is its focus on China protecting its maritime, space and cyberspace Security, developing China as a maritime power with capacity to exploit marine resources and safeguard the country’s maritime interests and building China’s strength to win wars in an information age. The reiteration in the report that the party should have absolute leadership over the army may convey a message that the voices in China in favour of bringing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under the state control have still not subsided.

18. The report approved by the congress signifies continuation of China’s drive to woo Taiwan. It has suggested setting up of ‘military security trust mechanism’ and signing of a ‘peace treaty ’ with Taiwan, along with a warning that there should be no attempt for Taiwan independence and that anyone or any force trying to separate Taiwan from the mainland will not be allowed. Interestingly, there is no reference in the report to the use of force on the Taiwan question.

19. To sum up, the 18th CCP Congress is noteworthy on two counts- the smooth transfer of power that has taken place to the fifth generation party leadership, consisting of many young and professional new comers and the decision made not to carry out any basic shift from the economic, political, military and foreign policies followed by the previous regime. Full contours of China’s political transition will be visible only in March 2013, when the country’s parliament, the NPC, would meet and finalise the next set up of government leaders.

(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India. Email:

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