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    11 china politics_li (1) 11 china politics_li (1) Document Transcript

    • China Foto Press Commentary China’s top leadership bodies will replace two-thirds of their members in fall 2012. New Challenges in Predicting China’s Upcoming Political Succession Though it is difficult to predict PRC leadership changes, accurate assessments are necessary to create effective US policies toward China. Cheng Li C hina is set to undergo a major turnover in leadership For the next two years, the leadership transition will at the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) be the main focus of power contenders in China. The National Congress in fall 2012. The country’s three China-watching community will also pay more attention most important leadership bodies—the Politburo Standing to the next generation of rising stars, especially the suc- Committee, State Council, and Central Military cessors to PRC President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Commission—will replace about two-thirds of their members Jiabao. because of age or other factors. The principal figures responsi- For US government leaders and business executives, ble for the country’s political and ideological affairs, economic accurate assessments of China’s upcoming political suc- and financial administration, foreign policy, and military cession are essential to creating effective policies toward operations will consist largely of newcomers after 2012. China. Though access to information about China’s 36 November–December 2010 chinabusinessreview.com
    • Commentaryleaders has never been better, Western analysts often respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2003—to trigger themiss the mark when they make predictions about poli- decline of the CCP leadership or even the collapse of thetics and policy in China. regime. Gordon Chang’s 2001 book, The Coming Collapse of China, was one of the most frequently cited monographsBetter access, improved analysis? on China in the first half of the decade. For the first few decades of the People’s Republic of But toward the end of the decade, many analysts beganChina, Western China watchers had minimal access to to perceive the Chinese political system as “resilient.”information and sources. Chinese military affairs scholar According to this view, CCP leaders have found a sustain-Ellis Joffe once jokingly referred to his research on the able way to maintain their authoritarian rule over thisPeople’s Liberation Army (PLA) as an exercise in “seeking emerging economic powerhouse. A large number of thesetruth from unavailable facts.” Today, many sources of infor- China watchers focus on the PRC government’s growingmation are available online, even for the “confidence” and overlook the vulnerabil-relatively sensitive subject of Chinese mili- Quick Glance ity of the communist one-party system,tary affairs. Several dozen unofficial the serious difficulties it faces, and theChinese websites focus on military affairs ■ Though difficult to make, possibility of a failure to broker dealsand provide extensive information about accurate assessments of China’s between competing factions in the nextPLA officers’ backgrounds, PRC military upcoming political succession are leadership transition. (The two moststrategies, China’s naval development necessary to create effective powerful factions—the leaders who comeobjectives, and China’s newly obtained policies toward China. from high-ranking official families,weapons. ■ China watchers should look known as “princelings,” and the officials The availability of new open sources of beyond overly positive or negative who advanced their careers through theinformation and unprecedentedly dynamic assessments of the PRC Chinese Communist Youth League,US-China scholarly exchanges have altered leadership transition and the known as “tuanpai ”—are vigorouslythe way Americans perceive political and country’s political trajectory. competing against each other for power,economic developments in China. In par- ■ Uncertainty surrounding the influence, and the policy agenda. Theticular, the sudden arrival and meteoric upcoming leadership turnover and two leading power contenders in the fifthgrowth of the Internet has allowed the its potential impact on the Chinese generation, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang,public to quickly and conveniently access Communist Party’s factional each represent one of these two factionsmore comprehensive official and unofficial dynamics may make 2012 an [see the CBR, March-April 2008, p.20].)Chinese sources. In some ways, the rapid especially interesting year in One of the central arguments of thegrowth of Internet sources has created an Chinese elite politics. “authoritarian resilience” thesis is that“oversupply” of information—a new chal- the CCP has relied on economic devel-lenge for those who study China. As John opment and material incentives for theNaisbitt, author of the Megatrends series has noted in a gen- Chinese people to prevent sociopolitical challenges. Neweral context, Western researchers of Chinese politics often socioeconomic forces, especially entrepreneurs and thefind themselves “drowning in information but starved for emerging middle class, are seen as political allies of theknowledge.” CCP regime. But this perception should be subject to In trying to understand Chinese politics, many foreign greater debate. Just as yesterday’s political target couldanalysts tend to hold one of two extreme views. Some ana- become today’s political ally, today’s political ally couldlysts hold stale perceptions, are vulnerable to rumors, and become tomorrow’s political rabble-rouser. For example,overly focus on investigating information obtained from recent studies cited in Chinese Social Sciences have foundunverified “secret documents” in China. Other analysts that the Chinese middle class tends to be more cynicalhave become so impressed by the achievements of the PRC about policy promises, more demanding about policyleadership that they have lost their critical lens and some- implementation, and more sensitive to corruptiontimes overlook the fundamental deficiencies and flaws of among officials than other social groups. If middle-classthe present-day Chinese political system. Chinese begin to think that their voices are being sup- pressed, that their access to information is being unjustlyFalse predictions and wrong lessons blocked, or that their space for social action is unduly Even with more information available each day, China confined, a political unrest of sorts may take place.watchers’ predictions about PRC elite politics still often The grievances of China’s middle class over governmentoverlook some important trends. As the new century began, policy have become more evident in recent years. The risingfor example, many China analysts and experts expected unemployment rate among recent college graduates (whomajor events—China’s accession to the World Trade usually come from middle-class families and are presumed toOrganization in 2001, the leadership succession in the 16th be members of China’s future middle class) should send anCCP National Congress in 2002, and the severe acute alarming signal to the PRC government, as well as those who chinabusinessreview.com November–December 2010 37
    • Commentaryanalyze Chinese elite politics. In a recent forum on China’s A look at Xi Jinpingresponse to the global financial crisis held by the Academy of When Hu was being considered for China’s top leader-Chinese Reform and Development in Beijing, Chinese schol- ship post, he was the only contender in his generation whoars argued that the government should pay much greater had served as a provincial party secretary in two provinces.attention to the needs and concerns of the middle class— He had also been on the Politburo Standing Committee forotherwise the “sensitive” Chinese middle class will become 10 years. Hu was well known for his political savvy, strongthe “angry” middle class. network within the Chinese Communist Youth League, and uncontroversial rhetorical ability.Upcoming PRC leadership turnover Xi does not stand out in the same way among his In fall 2012, the 18th CCP National Congress will competitors. Among the 344 full and alternate membersappoint new leaders to replace President Hu, Premier of the 15th Central Committee in 1997, Xi received theWen, and other senior leaders. Some prominent Western fewest votes from the more than 2,000 delegates of theChina watchers may be overly optimistic about the likeli- Party Congress. The fact that he served only eighthood of a peaceful, orderly, and institutionalized transi- months as CCP Secretary of Shanghai before being pro-tion. For example, in his new book, How China’s Leaders moted to the Politburo Standing Committee made hisThink, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a businessman-turned- rise unusual in terms of the new norms in elite promo-biographer of PRC senior leaders, praises the rising stars tion. Until now, Xi has failed to form his own politicalof the fifth-generation leadership for their talents, wis- network of peers and members of lower echelons of thedom, and vision. The book presents Xi Jinping’s and Li PRC leadership. Most important, as with other promi-Keqiang’s succession to the positions currently held by Hu nent figures in the fifth generation, Xi’s capacity andand Wen as certain and predicts that, as a team, the fifth leadership skills have yet to be tested.generation of leaders will take over power smoothly from Some of Xi’s public remarks have been highly contro-the fourth generation in 2012. versial. During his visit to Mexico in 2009, Xi accused But this upcoming succession may not be as smooth as American politicians of “interfering in China’s domesticthe last power transition in 2002. It has been widely per- affairs,” saying: “It seems there are some foreignersceived in China that Xi and Li are weaker and less impres- who’ve stuffed their bellies and don’t have anything elsesive than Hu and Wen. Several factors make these two to do but point fingers. First, China does not export rev-potential successors even more vulnerable. For example, a olution. Second, we’re not exporting hunger or poverty.few other fifth-generation leaders are notoriously ambi- And third, we aren’t making trouble for you. What else istious and probably more capable than Xi and Li. Also, Hu there to say?” These remarks were characterized even byJintao is not the only soon-to-be retired top leader who many Chinese bloggers as “undiplomatic” and “non-would like to run the country from behind the scenes— statesmanlike.”Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin also wants a say. Xi, of course, has his advantages. He is well positionedMeanwhile, several of the regime’s military leaders have as the frontrunner in the fifth-generation leadership. Hisbecome increasingly out of party and civilian control. recent appointment as vice chair of the powerful Central Though the fifth-generation leaders boast remarkable Military Commission was another major step on the pathlife experiences, the top contenders for succession must to becoming Hu’s successor, and the PRC political estab-overcome many daunting obstacles to consolidate their lishment will likely soon launch a public campaign to praisepower in the years ahead. Xi and Li’s formative experiences his credentials. Xi has long been known for his market-during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) as sent-down friendly approach to economic development, and businessyouth working at rural farms (along with many of their communities—both state-owned and private firms—mayfifth-generation peers) led these future leaders to develop support Xi despite his lack of a solid political power base.valuable traits such as endurance, adaptability, and humili- Xi’s experience in the military—serving as a personal assis-ty. Exposure to Western ideas and values in their college tant to the minister of Defense early in his career—alsoyears in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the most makes him stand out among his peers.liberal periods of university education in contemporaryChina, helped them form worldviews that diverge from Eye on Li Keqiangprevious generations of PRC leaders. In addition, their Many observers think that Li Keqiang, who is expectedshared leadership experiences in running provinces and cit- to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier, lacks Zhu Rongji’sies in the course of the country’s rapid economic develop- political courage and Wen’s charisma. Zhu and Wen werement in the 1990s appears to have prepared them well, as already known for their leadership talents and administra-they are now reaching the pinnacle of power. But Xi and tive achievements by the time they were vice premiers andLi are less experienced in a variety of ways than Hu and even earlier in their careers. Wen worked as a chief of staffWen were when they were in line to succeed former PRC for three CCP secretary generals, two of whom werePresident Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji in 2002. purged, and yet he managed not only to survive, but to38 November–December 2010 chinabusinessreview.com
    • Commentaryrise rapidly. In addition, Wen had gained broad adminis- ity in the country. Their unconventional and bold effortstrative experience before becoming premier—coordinating to tap public opinion for political advancement maypower transitions, commanding the anti-flood campaign change the dynamic in which future leaders jockey forin 1998, supervising the country’s agricultural affairs, and power. Vice Premier Wang Qishan and CCP Organizationoverseeing financial and banking reform. Wen’s talent as Department Director Li Yuanchao, also a princeling and aan administrator and his role as a coalition-builder explain tuanpai leader respectively, have developed their own hot-his legendary survival and success. In particular, Wen has button issues. Wang has consolidated his reputation as A careful, balanced, and non-ideological analysis of the upcoming leadership transition is essential for Washington to implement effective China policies.been known, both at home and abroad, for his remarkably one of the few Chinese leaders who understands the glob-quick response during natural disasters and other crises. al financial system, while Li has recently initiated an In contrast to Wen, Li has not reacted as quickly to ambitious national plan to cultivate and recruit global tal-national emergencies, including the Sichuan earthquake in ent. The daunting socioeconomic and political challenges2008 and the Yushu earthquake early this year. During Li’s that face the fifth-generation leaders will likely spur othertenure as Henan’s governor and party secretary, the prov- leaders to reach out to the public for support. The coun-ince was notorious for its “AIDS villages,” coal mine explo- try may soon witness a more dynamic and perhaps evensions, and widespread counterfeiting of goods. Only after more factionalized phase in its potentially difficult—butthen-Vice Premier Wu Yi visited some of the AIDS villages still hopefully peaceful—political transformation.in Henan did Li acknowledge the problem. Some AIDSactivists and nongovernmental organizations have criticized Imperative for a well-grounded analysisLi’s lack of action as a provincial chief. The general sense of uncertainty surrounding the Li also has his advantages. His humble family back- upcoming leadership turnover and the profound effect itground, low-profile personality, legal education, reputation might have on the CCP’s factional dynamics will likelyfor loyalty, strong political network, and provincial leader- make 2012 an especially interesting year in Chinese eliteship experience may prepare him well for the role as a top politics. China watchers should be aware of many possiblenational leader, but it will be difficult for him to claim any policy deadlocks within the Chinese collective leadership.major achievements as a provincial chief or vice premier. In At the same time, observers may also feel a sense of urgencysharp contrast with Zhu’s restructuring of the Chinese on the part of the Chinese political elites to search for newbureaucracy, which resulted in substantial personnel chang- sources of legitimacy.es and increased the efficiency of the central government, Foreign observers who study Chinese politics shouldmany observers believe that Li’s reform of major ministries look beyond overly positive or negative assessments of theand commissions has been largely ineffective. PRC leadership transition and the country’s political trajec- Further hampering his chances, the Chinese public may tory. Rather, China watchers should be aware of inter-partyview Li as too “soft,” even compared to Wen. Analysts in factional dynamics, new institutional norms, and rapidlyChina and abroad believe that the State Council’s economic changing rules of elite politics in China. Analysts shouldpolicies have become less effective in controlling China’s not be led astray by superficial phenomena or official pro-provinces, major cities, and key state-owned enterprises. paganda. A careful, balanced, and non-ideological analysisHaving a premier with such a soft image may not fit well of the upcoming leadership transition is essential forwith the need for a more efficient and effective central gov- Washington to implement effective China policies, especial-ernment to coordinate its various policy initiatives. ly when China has more influence on the world economy and regional security than perhaps ever before.Other rising stars A factor that makes the upcoming PRC leadership suc-cession more uncertain is that other rising stars in the Cheng Li (cli@brookings.edu) is senior fellow and director of research atfifth generation, most noticeably Chongqing CCP the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center. He is based inSecretary Bo Xilai (a princeling) and Guangdong CCP Washington, DC.Secretary Wang Yang (a tuanpai leader), have launched The opinions stated in this article are the opinions of the author and notself-promotion campaigns that have garnered great public- necessarily the views of CBR or the US-China Business Council. chinabusinessreview.com November–December 2010 39