Monday, August 07, 2006
Below is Gilley's read on the succession, which I basically agree. Nonetheless, I don't think Li Keqiang's rise will be all that smooth. The primary problem is that he remains a central committee member at this point. It would break a more or less established norm if he was given a two-step promotion at the 17th PC. Even when Zeng Qinghong, Jiang's favorite, was promoted into the Standing Committee, he had served as alternate member of the Politburo for a few years. At the same time, it would be hard for Li to take over if he served less than 5 years in the standing committee before taking over. If Hu promoted Li to a Politburo position at the 17th PC and into the Standing Committee a year later, Li would not have the full 5 years of experience before taking over. Xi Jinping, on the other hand, is already a Politburo member and can smoothly go into the Standing Committee next year. One speculation: perhaps Hu intends to place Li in this vulnerable position, so that in 2012, Hu can argue that "for the sake of stability," he serves another 5-year term?
Who Follows Hu?
By Bruce Gilley
7 August 2006
The Wall Street Journal Asia
The campaign season is underway in China. As preparations begin for the
ruling Chinese Communist Party's 17th congress late next year, senior party
members are engaged in intensive discussions about the new leadership to be
formally elected at that congress. The issue being most hotly debated in
Beijing is who should be given the informal title of designated successor to
the current party chief, Hu Jintao. According to two party sources familiar
with the discussions, the current favorite is Liao-ning province party chief
Li Keqiang, age 51. If chosen, he would assume the post of national party
chief at the 2012 congress.
The biggest impact of this is that China appears set for a stable transition
to a new leadership that would govern until 2022, based on the now standard
practice of party leaders serving two five-year terms. This creates
confidence among foreign investors and diplomatic partners alike. The
downside is that Mr. Li is an uncompromising supporter of absolute party
rule who has performed poorly in his provincial leadership posts. If chosen,
he may lack the ability to respond creatively to new demands in a rapidly
changing China. While his succession would signal a new stability within the
top ranks of the party, it would raise doubts about whether the party can
keep up with the demands of China's people.
Mr. Li is not the only candidate for the top party post. Mr. Xi Jinping is
also a strong contender, as noted in the 2002 book Disidai by a former party
and government official who writes under the pseudonym Zong Hairen. Mr.
Zong's report, identifying these two contenders, was further substantiated
when both men were transferred to high-profile coastal provinces after the
2002 party congress -- Mr. Xi to Zhejiang and Mr. Li to Liaoning. Since
then, Mr. Li has -- with Mr. Hu's support -- emerged as the front-runner. A
July report in Hong Kong's China-watching magazine Kaifang placed Mr. Li in
the lead. This was confirmed by two Chinese sources close to the
discussions, one a former party official and the other a scholar who has
taken part in preparations for the 2007 congress.
The two contenders for the top party post could not be more different. A
commoner from poor Anhui province, Mr. Li rose through the ranks of the
Communist Youth League (the source of a quarter of China's present
provincial leaders) under Mr. Hu's patronage until 1997. He was then sent to
a provincial-level position in Henan as preparation for his elevation to
high party office. He has a reputation as an orthodox party leader with a
penchant for Maoist-style campaigns and an inability to handle complex
governance issues. Mr. Xi, age 53, by contrast, is the son of a revered
party founder and a market-oriented policy maker who made his reputation in
the dynamic southern province of Fujian. While Mr. Li would likely tack
close to the winds of ideological and political orthodoxy, Mr. Xi is
expected to be more inventive in reforming China's governance structure.
According to Mr. Zong's Disidai, Mr. Xi once blamed Mao Zedong's Cultural
Revolution for the delay in providing state housing to boat-bound fisherman
in Fujian. Mr. Li, by contrast, like Mr. Hu, was an eager participant in the
Cultural Revolution, rusticating himself for three years from 1974 in remote
Anhui province to show support for the dying Mao's policies. While Mr. Li is
politically correct, Mr. Xi is populist. Mr. Li's support comes from elites
in the party's organization and ideology sectors (state media gave unusual
play in July to a visit to Liaoning by former premier Li Peng, who praised
Mr. Li's work). Mr. Xi's support comes from elites in the private and
state-controlled sectors of the economy.
Mr. Hu has argued in favor of Mr. Li's succession by pointing to his greater
"moral" stature, according to the sources. That refers to Mr. Hu's personal
ideological campaign of the "Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces," launched in
March. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, this campaign aims "to
measure the work, conduct, and attitude" of party leaders. Mr. Xi, by
contrast, is widely seen to be less interested in Confucian moralizing than
in economic and welfare improvements. For example, Mr. Xi has countered Mr.
Hu's theory of a "harmonious" society, where stability is upheld by moral
codes, with his own concept of a "peaceful Zhejiang." According to a 2004
report in the state-run Liaowang magazine, this means stability based on
political openness and policy fairness.
Messrs. Xi and Li have both kept quiet about their political prospects.
Asked about the issue at this year's meeting of the National People's
Congress, Mr. Li told reporters: "That is rumor. You should not believe it."
One possible outcome is that both Messrs. Li and Xi will be appointed to the
powerful Politburo Standing Committee that, in practice, rules China.
Currently consisting of nine members, Mr. Hu reportedly wants to shrink it
back to the conventional size of seven people, that existed prior to 2002.
According to the sources, internal security chief Luo Gan, party personnel
head Zeng Qinghong, anti-corruption chief Wu Guanzheng and United Front
overseer Jia Qinglin are scheduled to step down from the Standing Committee
at next year's congress. All are over, or close to, the age of 70, and a
long-standing party principle states that no one who has reached that age
should be appointed to the Politburo. One of the expected replacements is
Zhou Yongkang, according to the sources as well as the July report in
Kaifang. Mr. Zhou is an ally of the outgoing Mr. Zeng. His appointment to
take over the internal-security portfolio will complete a long-planned
takeover of this key role by the moderate faction associated with former
party chief Jiang Zemin from the hard-line faction associated with Li Peng.
For optimists, the fact that the front-runners for the 2012 succession have
been known since at least 2002 signals the remarkable degree to which the
party has developed a methodical and consensus-driven process. That is
sorely needed in the absence of the party elders who called the shots in
every previous succession -- including Mr. Hu's 2002 ascension -- since
Mao's death in 1976. That resolves what might be called the "internal"
threat to party rule, the risk that the party will tear itself apart in
However, it has unclear implications for the "external" threat to party rule
-- how long China's people will continue to tolerate an unelected single
party. Mr. Li looks more like one of the hidebound leaders who presided over
the end of the Soviet Union than a pragmatic neo-authoritarian able to steer
China along the path of Asian dynamism. That would leave the regime more
liable to break down if and when China's increasingly affluent -- and
assertive -- population decide that they deserve more than the current
regime can deliver.
As long as China's people, especially its educated urban minority, prefer a
stable succession to a fair and open one, it is easier for the leadership to
impose ad hoc rules that ensure a "smooth" succession. Losers never complain
in the Chinese political system. Social forces, not party
institutionalization, are what keeps the succession process on track and
will likely make the 2007 and 2012 changes uneventful. The party may have
solved the succession problem, but the cost may be a less agile leadership
and a less stable China.