Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Plenum Season Again,

Dear readers, it's plenum season again,which is a bit like election season, except there is no data, just a lot of speculations. The big question in the on-going plenum is whether Xi Jinping, Hu's likely successor, will be inducted into the Central Military Commission, as this would further seal his candidacy. We will see; I think there is a chance that Hu will find some excuse to exclude Xi from the body in order to prolong his own influence in the future. Here are a couple of excellent pieces on this issue:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/asia/15china.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=print [link OK]

The New York Times

September 15, 2009
China Watched for Sign of New Leader

BEIJING — China’s governing Communist Party will convene its annual policy meeting on Tuesday with a sober, if not soporific, mandate to root out government corruption and make the party adapt to changing times.

But lurking in the background is a more compelling topic: Who will become China’s next ruler in 2012?

Analysts will watch the meeting, the annual plenary session of the party’s 17th Central Committee, to see whether Vice President Xi Jinping is given the additional title of vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Such an appointment would be seen as a confirmation that Mr. Xi, 56, is set to succeed President Hu Jintao when Mr. Hu’s second term ends in 2012. Any Chinese leader must have experience in leading the military, which is under party control. Mr. Hu was awarded the same post in 1999, three years before he became the party’s general secretary in 2002.

Yet Chinese politics are so opaque that no outsider can say for certain that Mr. Xi, the presumed heir, will win the position — or that there will be a mark against him should he not.

“There is no foregone conclusion these days,” said a political analyst at a Beijing institution tied to the Communist Party.

Whether that is true is a central question hanging over the meeting this week. Since the founding of the People’s Republic 60 years ago, the Communist Party has governed both the Chinese people and itself strictly from the top down, with all important actions approved by a handful of party leaders united by power and personal relationships.

Officially, at least, the 2,000 or more Central Committee members meeting this week have been given an agenda to shake up that model. The members are supposed to prepare plans to bring democracy to the party’s inner deliberations, choosing new leaders by consensus, not by the dictates of those at the top.

“A new crop of leaders who grew up after the reform and opening up started are going to step into new leadership roles” in 2012, Zhen Xiaoying, a professor at the Communist Party’s central party school, stated in a recent article in the state-run newspaper People’s Daily. He was referring to the period of economic reform that began in 1978.

“The era of relying on authority and personal charm to run the party is over,” he said.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Hu epitomize that shift. Mr. Hu, 66, joined the party in 1964, two years before Mao’s Cultural Revolution brought China a decade of social and political chaos. Mr. Xi joined in 1974, two years after President Richard M. Nixon first visited Beijing and China began to reconnect to the outside world.

Mr. Hu was the party’s designated successor to Jiang Zemin, who ruled a battened-down China after the bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

The process of political succession in China’s one-party system is always shrouded in intrigue. The party elite elevated Mr. Xi to the ruling Politburo Standing Committee in 2007 and gave him the highest rank of any leader of his age group, signaling that he had been chosen to succeed Mr. Hu when the latter’s second five-year stint as top leader ends in 2012. But the party’s internal deliberations on such matters are in the highest order of state secret, and there has been no public confirmation of Mr. Xi’s status.

Whatever changes the plenum orders are unlikely to resemble democracy as Westerners know it. China has long shunned Western democracy, branding it anarchy, and embraced what it calls “democratic centralism” — essentially, passing carefully reviewed suggestions from lower-level party organs to leaders at the top.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, recently quoted Mr. Hu as saying that democratic centralism would remain China’s guiding version of democracy. One liberal political analyst who has called for a more open Chinese society, Liu Junning, argued in a telephone interview that prospects for genuine changes this week were dim.

“I think it is important in China first to strengthen formal institutions such as the legislature and the court system, rather than informal structures such as the ruling party,” he said. “Let’s see if there are any open factions within the party — any open opposition, any open minorities.”

China’s governing elite, like any group, has factions, but they are tightly cloaked. Mr. Xi, for example, is widely believed to be the favorite of Mr. Jiang, who still has considerable sway in retirement.

After Mao wreaked havoc with the party hierarchy by designating and then toppling multiple successors, the party’s elite clawed back the power to oversee political succession. Mr. Hu was effectively designated China’s future top leader in 1992, leaving Mr. Jiang, then the new No. 1 official, little choice in the matter. Likewise, Mr. Hu’s apparent favorite, Deputy Prime Minister Li Keqiang, was not selected as his future successor, though Mr. Li is now considered likely to be the next prime minister.

The plenum will be closely watched for any signs that internal politicking has kept the succession contest alive.

The analyst at the Communist Party institution, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said he believed that Mr. Xi might not win the military post this week. “If he doesn’t,” he said, “it would show that there’s more of a balance of power. But it would not mean that Xi lost the opportunity.”

The plenum is also scheduled to take up anticorruption measures that could include a requirement that some party officials disclose their holdings of property or financial instruments.

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting, and Li Bibo contributed research.

A Party Plenum Worth Watching
China's Communist Party has some tough decisions to make.

BEIJING—The largest ruling body of the Chinese Communist Party—the Central Committee—will convene its annual meeting in Beijing today. This meeting isn't just another plenum. It will say much about how the current Chinese leadership wants to unjam a backlog of reform initiatives and what role it wants the Party to play in the years to come.

The current leadership has coped with crises of all sorts, from earthquakes to ethnic unrest, exceptionally well, all the while avoiding the soul-searching and power-sharing that many outside of China have insisted was necessary for the Party to survive and the country to prosper. Both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have a right to feel pleased.

But there is also ample reason for anxiety about the Hu-Wen legacy. For all the praise heaped on China's economic performance by outsiders, many scholars and officials here know better, and they continue to express concern about structural challenges. Analysts bemoan the high cost of housing, the appalling state of health care and the stubbornly high unemployment rates of college graduates. These issues may be raised by plenum delegates. Many ordinary Chinese and some officials believe they have been shunted aside by Party elites more concerned with overseas corporate takeovers and access to oil and strategic minerals than the widening income gap.
Xi Jinping, the future Hu Jintao?

To counter this dissatisfaction, the Hu administration may restart local elections, expanding the means by which dissent can take place within the Party. The Party may also announce measures to discipline cadres who employ power for private purposes. The well-oiled state-run media machine has run stories hinting of a coming full-scale crackdown on corruption in Party ranks, as well as a requirement that cadres declare their private and family assets publicly. Even if those rumors are simply smoke, they must reflect discontent among some Party officials who feel themselves excluded from decision-making.

The other major issue on the agenda concerns the future leadership of the Party. Xi Jinping, the current Vice President, heads the shortlist to succeed Mr. Hu as party secretary in 2012, followed closely by Vice Premier Li Keqiang. Many analysts outside China expect that Messrs. Xi and Li will ascend together, sharing the same sort of arrangement that their predecessors President Hu and Premier Wen enjoyed: a division of responsibilities and a tacit agreement not to challenge the prevailing political protocol. Policy disagreements are allowed, so long as power plays are eschewed.

But the problem might turn out to be chemistry. Messrs. Hu and Wen appear to genuinely respect and even like each other. It is not at all clear whether Messrs. Xi and Li can work out the same understanding, for they are competitors whose time in the political saddle has not been especially long. They are each expanding their networks inside the Party but they are still working out whom they can trust at the apex of the political system.

There is also no clear sign that Mr. Hu is ready to name a clear successor, or if he did, that his choice would be met with acclaim across the Party. Whether the armed forces feel comfortable with Mr. Xi is also very much an unknown: A key test of his support base at this plenum will be whether he is chosen to be the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission. Should deadlock result, there are other officials in the Party who could seek to seize the opportunity to disrupt the usual process of political succession and try to claim Party leadership for themselves.

There are plenty of examples of Chinese plenums making history. The plenum held in 1978 marked the beginning of Deng Xiaoping's effort to engineer economic transformation through modernization and moving the state away from its dominance of the market. The 1992 plenum, barely three years after the Tiananmen Square incident, stiff-armed conservatives who tried to roll back market reforms but also left no room for organized dissent. Those plenums were the beginnings of a great economic experiment that has largely worked.

This plenum might turn out to be another defining meeting for the current leadership, which has so far been interested less in transforming China than securing continued tenure for the Party. The plenum could be the takeoff point for a more confident Communist Party, one that would be willing to experiment with political alternatives like direct elections. Whatever the outcome, this week's plenum promises to make a bit of history.

Mr. Moses is dean of the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies.

Its strange that the Western media has not picked up on the strong attacks by leftists and the Shanghai gang on Wen Jiabao leading into this plenum - nothing new to be sure, but perhaps a sign of troubled waters.
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