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China: New Chinese Leadership: Cautious & Politically Conservative

China’s new State leadership was formally installed in office at the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC), which concluded in Beijing after a fortnight’s session on March 16,2013.

2. As expected, Xi Jinping, who had taken over as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Party at the 18th Party Congress in November last, took over from Hu Jintao as the State President and the Chairman of the State CMC on March 14,2013.

3. Li Kequiang took over as the Prime Minister from Wen Jiabao the next day. In their personal qualities, the two leaders are a sharp contrast to Hu and Wen. Unlike Hu, who was formal, mostly unsmiling and withdrawn, Xi is relaxed, warm in his personal interactions with his colleagues and party functionaries and outgoing.

4. Wen was a warm and people friendly leader, who mixed easily with party functionaries and the ordinary people and came to be loved as “grandpa Wen”. Not much is yet known about his successor Li, but he seems to be modeled more after Hu.

5. Those who expected some winds of political change to blow from the NPC would have reasons to be disappointed. Despite being personally likeable, Xi came out as a cautious and politically conservative leader who is unlikely to take any major political initiatives.

6. His cautious approach was stamped on the proceedings and style of the NPC. Whereas the previous NPC sessions used to be lively with China’s growing community of netizens competing vigorously with the NPC to become the real voice of the people, the just-concluded NPC session was lack-lustre, carefully orchestrated and discouraged competitive debates from the online com munity.

7.Nothing brought out the change in style more dramatically than the unusually restrained role of Wen in the proceedings. Wen, who in the past used to be in the forefront of leaders advocating political reforms to follow economic reforms and who used to point out that Deng Xiao-Ping felt that economic reforms would not be sustainable unless ultimately followed by appropriate political reforms, was relatively inarticulate on this subject.

8. References to the need for political reforms took a back seat in the 12th NPC. Apart from the importance of revamping the Chinese economy, two other messages which came out loud and clear from the NPC were the inadvisability of experimenting with Western style political reforms and the importance of continuing the effective control of the CPC over the PLA.

9. The proposed revamping of the economy would stress quality growth with greater priority to encouraging domestic consumption and reducing the dependence on foreign investment. It would also pay attention to measures for the removal of present ills in the economy such as corruption, inefficiency, inequality and environmental damage. The emphasis would still be on sustaining the Chinese economy as the second largest after that of the US, but livelihood issues and issues likely to impact political stability and social harmony such as corruption and environmental pollution would receive greater attention.

10. The new leadership feels that the measures for the revamping of the economy cannot succeed without continuing political stability. It is in this context that any talk of political experimentation is sought to be discouraged. It was stressed that the present political system based on consultative inner party and inner State democracy without contentious public debates on policy issues has served the country well and would continue. This would mean the continued primacy of the CPC as the decision maker.

11.Yu Zhengsheng, the newly-elected chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), was quoted as telling a session of the CPPCC on March 12: “China will promote consultative democracy and will not copy Western political systems under any circumstances. We need to steadfastly uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), adhere to and improve the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC….We need to more strictly follow the socialist path of political development with Chinese characteristics, not imitate Western political systems under any circumstances, always adhere to the correct political orientation, and strengthen the CPPCC’s ideological and political foundations of collective struggle.”

12.The other message that came out of the NPC was the strengthening of China’s military power side by side with its economic power and the need to ensure the absolute loyalty of the PLA to the CPC. In a statement issued on March 12 after an address the previous day by Xi Jinping to a panel meeting of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation to the NPC, the PLA’s General Political Department said: “All military staff must comprehend and implement the key points conveyed in Xi’s speech and thoroughly understand the vital role of national defense and military building in realizing the “Chinese dream.” They must fully seize the opportunities and meet the challenges China is facing in safeguarding national security and sustaining development, and further enhance their sense of responsibility and mission.”

13.The statement called on military staff to follow the directions of Xi and ensure victories in any war. It also asked forces personnel to live frugal lifestyles and reject waste so as to make better use of military spending.

14. According to the Xinhua, Xi urged the armed forces to be “absolutely loyal” to the Party and bring the country’s defense capacity and army building to new high.

15. China’s power projection in the economic as well as military fields was laid down as the primary tasks of the Party and the Government in the coming years and it was underlined that any political experimentation would come in the way of political stability and social harmony which were essential for achieving these goals.

16. Any expectation that the new leadership would take China on the road to a more liberal society would be premature.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )

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