FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Leadership transition to determine future of China
, August 4, 2012
Behind closed doors in Beijing, a leadership battle is taking place which will determine the direction taken by China’s government over the next five to 10 years.
Despite the fact that no announcements have emerged from the government, internet bloggers and observers in Hong Kong have been able to piece together a reasonably clear picture of what is happening within the leadership elite of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which has run the country for the past 63 years.
Within the leadership group, it had been determined years ago that at this year’s 18th Congress of the CCP the next leader of the party would be appointed to succeed current party leader, Hu Jintao, whose 70th birthday will come in December 2012.
Hu has led the People’s Republic of China since becoming President in March 2003. He had earlier taken over the key post of General-Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, succeeding the notorious Jiang Zemin, and took over the key post of chairman of the Central Military Commission (which controls the army) in 2004.
Hu leads the faction which wants to transfer power to Xi Jinping, currently a vice-president of the PRC and also deputy chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission. Xi Jinping is described as the top-ranked member in the Chinese Communist Party’s central secretariat, but does not hold the all-powerful post of First Secretary.
Before becoming a senior Communist Party official, Xi was an engineer, like the current President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Jiang Zemin, although frail, is still a powerful player in the Communist Party. His protégés include Zhou Yongkang, the effective head of the Chinese security apparatus and also reportedly the person who controls China’s oil monopoly. Zhou worked in this industry for about 20 years, rising to become general manager of the China National Petroleum Corporation, China’s largest energy company.
Zhou was also aligned with the now disgraced former party boss, Bo Xilai, who was deposed after allegations of corruption.
Zhou is not himself a candidate for promotion to lead the Communist Party, as he will be 70 this year, and is due to retire shortly. However, he is a key figure in the Politburo standing committee and runs the Central Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC) which controls the security apparatus.
Jiang Zemin’s protégés have also run the Communist Party in China’s most important cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, although Hu Jintao has challenged them by appointing his own allies to the top party post in Beijing.
What is at stake is whether Xi Jinping will hold all the key posts in China, as Hu Jintao does today, or whether they will be shared among leaders who represent the two main factions.
The two groups have different views on China’s future direction. Under Hu Jintao, there have occurred a major opening towards the outside world, membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other international bodies, and much improved relations with Taiwan (although 600 rockets are still aimed at Taiwan from the mainland).
Over recent years, direct flights and shipping links have been established; the Chinese government allows large numbers of Chinese visitors to travel to Taiwan every year; and closer political, trade and economic links have been established.
Hu also pushed for continued industrialisation, turning China into the manufacturing centre of the world, and has called for greater democratisation, although nothing has happened in this area over the past 10 years.
Jiang Zemin, who supported the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and directed the brutal suppression of Falun Gong in 1999, is totally committed to maintaining the monopoly of power by the Communist Party, using the security apparatus of the PLAC.
The current battle is not only over the succession by Xi Jinping, but also over the powers of the security apparatus, specifically, the PLAC.
It is very difficult to understand what is going on inside the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in the run-up to the party’s 18th Congress, due to be held in November.
But the outcome of the struggle will be clear in what powers are exercised by Xi Jinping, and whether the security apparatus, and specifically, the Political and Legal Affairs Committee, retains its dominant role inside the party.
The best analysis of what is happening in China today comes from the Chinese expatriate magazine, The Epoch Times, which regularly publishes reports written by close Chinese observers of the power struggle.
It has documented how Communist Party publications in China, including Study Times and Legal Daily, have published oblique but clear attacks on the leadership of the committee.
Another member of the Politburo, He Guoqiang, who led the attack on Bo Jilai and is an ally of the current President, Hu Jintao, was recently quoted as saying that the Communist Party is in danger of losing control of China, due to widespread corruption and the abuse of power by local party officials.