Monday, October 09, 2006
Monday, October 9, 2006
New doctrine is crucial for Hu
WANG XIANGWEI in Beijing
As more than 300 members of the Communist Party's elite central committee began
their annual, four-day, closed-door session in Beijing yesterday, their main agenda
was, as had been announced, to discuss ways of "building a harmonious socialist
This benign-sounding subject belies heavy political undertones and far-reaching
implications for the leadership of President Hu Jintao and the future direction of
the Communist Party as well as the mainland's growth pattern.
The meeting is crucial to Mr Hu's leadership and his place in history as he moulds
his legacy less than two years after gaining absolute power.
The officials, huddling in the military-run Jingxi Hotel in Beijing's western
suburbs, are expected to approve a policy blueprint elevating Mr Hu's "harmonious
society" slogan to official theory.
The new doctrine will boost Mr Hu's authority and herald another drive to shore up
the Communist Party's claim to legitimacy, which has been greatly undermined by the
collapse of Marxist ideology and the emergence of murkier aspects of the economy
marked by rampant official corruption, a widening wealth gap and simmering public
At the meeting Mr Hu will face minimal resistance in pushing through his policy
agenda and setting a new direction for party policy, particularly after his recent
decision to sack Chen Liangyu , the powerful party boss in Shanghai. That dealt a
crushing blow to his main political rivals, the Shanghai clique led by his
predecessor Jiang Zemin , of which Mr Chen was a key member.
The meeting is also expected to authorise the 17th party congress, probably in
autumn next year, when a new generation of leaders, including Mr Hu's anointed
successors, will be elected. It marks the start of a long run of intense politicking
and jockeying for power.
While it is far too early to pinpoint winners and losers, the broad contours of a
power shake-up are emerging, with signs that Mr Hu, Vice-President Zeng Qinghong and
Premier Wen Jiabao will have the most say in deciding a new line-up of officials at
the congress next year.
This means the further rise of officials from the Communist Youth League, Mr Hu's
power base, and those from the loose group of so-called "princelings" - children of
communist veterans - such as Mr Zeng, against the backdrop of the irreversible
decline of the Shanghai clique.
So what is Mr Hu's theory of "building a harmonious society" all about?
The catch-all phrase covers Mr Hu's efforts to spread wealth and narrow the
mainland's income gap by rectifying the economic excesses of the past 20 years and
abandoning Mr Jiang's so-called elitist policy approach, which favoured faster
economic growth, entrepreneurs and powerful business interest groups.
Cheng Li, a New York-based expert on mainland politics, said in his latest report on
the leadership changes that Mr Hu's populist initiatives had already begun to change
the country's course of development, from obsession with economic growth to a more
sustainable growth model with better pollution controls and less energy consumption;
from an excessive focus on urban construction, foreign investment and foreign trade
to a greater concern for rural advancement and the stimulation of domestic demand;
from a single-minded emphasis on coastal development to a more balanced regional
Over the past few days, the official media has begun to run a series of articles
hailing Mr Hu's "harmonious society" push as a theoretical breakthrough and the
guiding light for the country in the years ahead.
But Mr Hu's decision to preach the wisdom of harmony comes at a critical juncture,
with the Communist Party's legitimacy in greater peril than ever.
For the leadership, China is faced with similar, if not more serious, conditions
than those that led to the massive pro-democracy rallies and the subsequent bloody
crackdown of June 1989. Those included rampant official corruption, growing social
unrest, widening income gaps, serious environmental degradation, soaring
unemployment, worsening law and order, and failed reforms in housing, medical care
To provide theoretical backing for Mr Hu's theory, Xinhua reported at the weekend
that Mr Hu had sent dozens of teams to Europe, the US, Latin America, other East
Asian countries and Africa to conduct research on a wide range of social issues,
from labour relations to social welfare.
In a separate report on Saturday, Xinhua said Mr Hu's theory had benefited
particularly from the formulas of the long-successful democratic socialist parties
in Nordic countries such as Norway and Sweden, particularly in the area of social
This has given rise to hopes that Mr Hu intends to transform the Communist Party
along the lines of the European socialist parties to maintain its legitimacy.
Some party academics have already urged the party to move away from its 20-year-old
dictum of highlighting economic development as the core of the party's guiding
Instead, the party and the government should focus on providing public
administration and public services, allowing market forces to play a dominant role
in economic development, they said.
But when Mr Hu first put forward the theory in February last year, he faced strong
resistance from within the party and was virtually forced to refrain from mentioning
"harmony" for nearly 10 months, according to sources close to the party's inner
The resistance came from the supporters of Mr Jiang, powerful local officials and
business groups thought to have colluded with corrupt officials to profit handsomely
from faster economic growth.
They also put up similar resistance to central government demands since 2004 to rein
in property speculation and overall economic growth to prevent overheating.
Mr Chen reportedly clashed openly with Mr Wen over the central government's
It was in this context that Mr Hu launched an anti-corruption campaign this summer
to consolidate his power and remove political opposition to his policy agenda.
Since then, there have been arrests of high-ranking officials and well-connected
businessmen in Beijing, Tianjin , Fujian , Anhui and Hunan , culminating in the
downfall of Mr Chen, the most powerful official removed from office in a decade.
As the investigation widens, many party officials and analysts believe Mr Hu is
stepping up pressure on two members of the Politburo Standing Committee, Jia Qinglin
and Huang Ju , to take responsibility for corruption in Beijing and Fujian, where Mr
Jia used to be party chief, and in Shanghai, where Mr Huang was also party chief.
However, party officials said Mr Hu was very unlikely to force Mr Jia and Mr Huang
to step aside at this week's meeting.
"The pressure is aimed at ensuring the two step down quietly at the 17th congress
next year, leaving them with little in the way of bargaining chips to influence the
new line-up of officials," one party source said.
The sacking of Mr Chen has intensified speculation about the reshuffling of the
Politburo and its nine-member standing committee at the 17th congress, even though
it is still about one year away.
Changes in the two powerful bodies and the larger central committee may be less
sweeping than those at the 16th party congress in 2002, when there was a
generational power transition, but there may still be major reshuffles.
Many party officials now believe Mr Jia and Mr Huang are most likely to step down.
And two more standing committee members are also likely to retire because of age.
While there is no official retirement age for Politburo and standing committee
members, the agreed norm appears to be 70.
Luo Gan will be 72 next year and Wu Guanzheng , chairman of the Central Commission
for Discipline Inspection, will turn 69.
Of the five other standing committee members, there is little doubt that President
Hu and Mr Wen will keep their posts after the 17th congress. So will Li Changchun ,
China's propaganda tsar and the youngest standing committee member, who turns 63
next year. Wu Bangguo , chairman of the National People's Congress, and Vice-
President Zeng are also likely to remain, although Mr Zeng will be 68 by the time of
At the Politburo level, Vice-Premiers Wu Yi and Zeng Peiyan will be 69 and are also
expected to step down.
At the central committee level, where the mandatory retirement age is 65 for
provincial party secretaries, governors and ministers, there is expected to be a
major intake of younger "fifth-generation leaders" in their 50s, with several of the
most prominent ones likely to be inducted into the Politburo.
Following Mr Hu's anti-corruption campaign to remove political opposition, the
general view is that he will now have a much freer hand in promoting his supporters
and protégés from the Communist Youth League to important positions in the national
and regional leadership, which would help in carrying out his populist policies.
However, Mr Hu will have to be prepared for intensive horse-trading with other
kingmakers - Mr Zeng in particular - in the months to come.
The overseas media has long associated Mr Zeng with the Shanghai faction and Mr
Jiang. But the reality is that Mr Zeng has already become a formidable force in his
own right, independent of the Shanghai faction, not least because as a princeling he
has maintained close ties to the children of other communist veterans - many of whom
are generals in the People's Liberation Army.
Mr Zeng reportedly played a pivotal role in helping Mr Hu to force Mr Jiang to
relinquish his last post as the chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Some overseas media have even singled him out as the key figure involved in
engineering the downfall of the Shanghai party boss.
But many party officials are sceptical. The anti-corruption probe that brought down
Mr Chen was handled by investigators from the Central Commission for Discipline
Inspection, and commission chairman Mr Wu, a strong ally of Mr Hu, was unlikely to
have answered to Mr Zeng. They believe a more likely scenario was that Mr Wu led the
investigation with Mr Hu's full support.
Although party officials said Mr Hu and other top leaders had not agreed on choices
for vacant seats on the Politburo and its standing committee, the smart money is
already on certain officials.
Current Politburo members Liu Yunshan , the head of the party's propaganda
department, Hubei party secretary Yu Zhengsheng , He Guoqiang , the head of the
party's organisation department, and Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang are
strong contenders for the vacant seats on the standing committee. Guangdong party
secretary Zhang Dejiang and Beijing party secretary Liu Qi also deserve mention.
Prominent fifth-generation leaders with a good chance of getting into the Politburo
are likely to include Liaoning party secretary Li Keqiang and Jiangsu party
secretary Li Yuanchao - both of whom are close allies of Mr Hu - Commerce Minister
Bo Xilai , Zhejiang party secretary Xi Jinping , Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan , the
minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, Ma Kai , and People's
Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan .
Finally, it is widely expected that Mr Hu will anoint his own successor, who will
take over at the 18th congress in 2012, by promoting a fifth-generation leader to
the Politburo standing committee at the 17th congress. If so, Li Keqiang is the man