By Bhaskar Roy
On the morning of November 15, seven Chinese leaders led by Xi Jinping strode on to the red carpeted podium in the Great Hall of the People. These members of the newly elected members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo (PBSC) of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee. In his brief address, Xi Jinping, the newly elected CCP General Secretary, squarely accepted the serious challenges ahead. Corruption was on top of the list. The PBSC was reduced from 9-members to 7-members. This will make the decision making process easier.
The new PBSC line up is as follows: Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli. Most of these leaders headed by Xi Jinping, and second in hierarchy and putative Premier Li Keqiang will lead the country for the next ten years. The world will be closely watching these seven men and their actions. The directions that China takes will impact the world economically, politically and militarily. Briefly, China would continue to contribute even more to global issues positively or negatively.
Serious political scandals and intense power struggle marked the months leading to the congress, impacting policy directions and personnel. The Bo Xilai scandal earlier this year revealed two things to the Chinese public. (i) corruption at high levels, and (ii) a strong under current of leftism and Maoism among senior leaders both civil and military, who perceive that the Chinese leadership in the last two decades were selling out to the west the gains of the Chinese communist revolution. Significantly, among these groups are children of former revolutionary leaders who greatly suffered under Mao Zedong’s ultra leftist Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
The influence of the left will remain for some time more. Through October there was more than one indication the “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Marxism-Leninism” could be dropped from CCP’s constitution as one of the major guidelines. The amended constitution, however, retained them in full without any dilution. Very interestingly, in his first public remarks as Party General Secretary, Xi Jinping did not touch even once of Marxism – Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought or by other guidelines.
A development to be taken note of is that out going Party Chief Hu Jintao’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin succeeded in pushing himself at the center-stage of the Congress, physically sitting on the podium at the age of 86, though he needed help to get up and walk. This could only happen only because Jiang’s policy of development and opening the party membership to successful business community in the interest of development had a forceful support in the Central Committee. Return of retired senior leaders to the fore front of politics could be dangerous. The Tiananmen Square crackdown on students may not have taken place with the retired leaders who officially had a say, not been there. Following that Deng Xiaoping had this body dissolved.
It appears that till the afternoon of November 14, the final list of the PBSC seven was being debated. The official news agency, the Xinhua, reported nine names who were elected as CC members of the 18th CC. These included the names of all those in the PBSC and others who were in contention.
It is said that Jiang Zemin won and the Jintao was washed away in power sharing. This argument is further backed by the fact that Hu Jintao did not stay on for some more time as the Chairman of the critical Central Military Commission (CMC) as Jiang Zemin had done. From another angle, by retiring from the CMC Chairmanship, Hu Jintao sent a message that retired leaders should not intervene and try to lead the country. Such moves always resulted in negative consequences.
It is a fact that Hu Jintao could not promote his Communist Youth League (CYL) protégée, Li Keqiang, as the next Party Chief. Xi Jinping won over with support from Jiang Zemin. As more information comes out including an English translation of a Xi Jinping interview in 2000 (by NIAS, Denmark), Xi’s ambit of contact went much further than his pedigree of a princeling and Jiang Zemin. He had worked with Defence Minister Geng Biao, a powerful top leader who also excelled in diplomacy. Under Gen. Geng’s tutelage, Xi was able to work in the countryside along with the PLA during exercises, thereby getting a rare army-peasant co-operation experience.
His political career is marked by “co-operation” and “patience”. As a school student during the Cultural Revolution he had to criticize his own father Xi Zhongshun, a revolutionary leader and among the scores targeted by Mao, his Security Chief Kang Sheng’s wife Cao Yiopu’s Red Guards group. Xi Jinping, therefore, had built up a wide contact base from his youth, unwittingly and then deliberately after he joined politics.
One cannot discount Li Keqiang either. A farm labourer’s son, he worked himself up through school and university by his shoe strings, worked in difficult places, and subscribes to the policy of developing poor regions.
In the PBSC-7, it can be said Hu Jintao has two protégées, Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, the Party Propaganda Chief. A CYL product, he is still to decide on how liberal the media and the internet can be.
Jiang Zemin has two firm supporters, Yu Zhengsheng, Shanghai Party Chief and a princeling, and Zhang Gaoli Party Chief of Tianjin Municipality, nurtured by Jiang.
Of the other three, it cannot be said they are blind supporters of Jiang Zemin. Xi Jinping, as established, has his own mind and counsel, and will gradually carve out at least a first among equals position for himself.
Zheng Dejiang, a princeling who can take hard decision to control issues, is not known to be a liberal reformer. He reportedly opposed Jiang’s policy of inducting businessmen in the Party. He cannot be a Jiang man, but a princeling known for his no nonsense work. He appears to be a representative of the conservatives.
Wang Qishan is another princeling, known for his economic acumen, and appreciated in the US for his sharp mind and sense of satiric humour. He has also been made head of the Party’s anti-corruption unit the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDIC). He will spearhead Xi Jinping anti-corruption drive within the Party.
It is evident that a new class in Chinese leadership may be emerging. In the PBSC line up, it least four of the seven are princelinings. It would, however, be wrong to conclude that all princelings have the same political, ideological and economic outlook. But most are of the view that their parents sacrificed for the country’s liberation, they themselves also suffered under Mao, excesses, and they have also come out with experience that the Party is supreme to keep the country together. Individual emphasis on issues may be different. But is a new class coming up in China? Certainly, if the straws in the wind are to be read.
It is possible to see a balance in the PBSC. Retention of Marxism – Leninism in the Party constitution along Deng Xiaoping Theory and Three Represents (attributed to Jiang) and inclusion of ‘Scientific Development’ (attributed to Hu Jintao), underscores the balance. Xi Jinping will have to prove to his colleagues and the people of China that he can take the country to the commanding heights among nations. But except for Xi and Li Keqiang, the other five members of the PBSC who are in their mid-sixties will retire after five years according to the current rule. Therefore, power struggle at the ordinary members of the Politburo level is expected to start almost immediately. This does not in spite of high level political stability.
The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]