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China: New leaders, old policies

Publisher Radio Free Asia
Publication Date 15 November 2012
Cite as Radio Free Asia, China: New leaders, old policies, 15 November 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50b382a728.html [accessed 18 September 2014]
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2012-11-15

Reform prospects are dim under the new leadership unveiled by the Chinese Communist Party

The Chinese Communist Party's new Politburo Standing Committee members, led by Xi Jinping (L), arrive to meet with the press in Beijing, Nov. 15, 2012.The Chinese Communist Party's new Politburo Standing Committee members, led by Xi Jinping (L), arrive to meet with the press in Beijing, Nov. 15, 2012. EyePress News

China on Thursday revealed its new leadership line-up, suggesting there is little likelihood of policy change among the ruling Chinese Communist Party elite for at least the next five years, analysts said.

Vice-president Xi Jinping replaced outgoing president Hu Jintao as the party's new general-secretary while Li Keqiang predictably took over the number two slot on the all-powerful Politburo standing committee from outgoing premier Wen Jiabao.

Both will be confirmed in their government jobs as president and premier at the National People's Congress, the country's largely rubber stamp parliament, in March 2013.

The new leadership is predominantly composed of older, conservative candidates or cautious reformers like the new vice-premier in charge of economic affairs, Wang Qishan, who will head the Party's graft-busting body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

However, analysts said Qi's scope to make a difference via continued economic reforms was still limited.

China analyst Willy Wo-lap Lam said reforms to the household registration system, which discriminates against hundreds of millions of rural households, were unlikely over the next five years, when many of the new standing committee members will have reached retirement age and be ineligible for a second term.

"Wen Jiabao and Li Keqiang have both pledged to help the private sector, and to inject more market elements into the economy, partly to create a more level playing field," Lam said. "But the obstacles are formidable."

"Many state-owned enterprises are controlled by power blocs in the Party, or by the princelings," Lam said, in a reference to the sons and daughters of veteran Party leaders.

Two reform-minded candidates, Guangdong provincial Party chief Wang Yang and Party organization head Li Yuanchao, as well as the only woman candidate, Liu Yandong, were rejected from the list of 10 candidates for the elite decision-making Politburo Standing Committee.

Media controls

Meanwhile, the promotion of former propaganda czar Liu Yunshan to the standing committee suggests that tight controls over mainstream media and the Internet will continue.

"Liu Yunshan is a...ghost from the past with no inkling of what the 21st century is all about," Lam said.

"But he has won the support of both former president Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao for doing effective public relations for them, for example, he has faithfully executed Hu's campaign to modernize and popularize Marxism."

Experts said China's new leadership, which came amid factional strife in the wake of the biggest political scandal in more than two decades, was necessarily divided, because a polarized Party was now seeking conservative candidates who would do nothing rash.

Xi, in his speech on taking over as General Secretary and as head of the Central Military Commission, warned of "severe challenges" ahead for China, including a growing gap between the political elite and the ordinary people.

"Under the new conditions, our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved," he said in a live broadcast on state-run broadcaster CCTV.

He singled out "particularly corruption [and] being divorced from the people" as challenges facing the Party.

Hong Kong-based political commentator Fang Dehao said the new leadership would likely focus on the economy as a safe way forward, however.

"We won't see any real political reforms," Fang said. "Overall, they will continue with the principle of stability at all costs."

"There will likely be some differences of opinion between them, but I think there is a strong enough consensus to preserve stability in the running of Party affairs."

Zhou Xiaozheng, a retired professor at the People's University in Beijing, said China would need a stronger personality than Xi's to embark on any major program of reform.

"Political reform in China is very hard, and would need a strong personality like Deng Xiaoping's to push it through," Zhou said. "Political reform...would damage the Party's own interests."

Parliament

Based on the strict order of precedence observed by Party etiquette, North Korean-trained economist Zhang Dejiang will likely head the National People's Congress, while Shanghai Party chief Yu Zhengsheng is expected to head its sister body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Tianjin Party chief Zhang Gaoli's promotion is largely seen as a reward for seniority, in the absence of reform-minded candidates.

A veteran commentator for the Party's own newspaper, surnamed Wang, said the new standing committee was notably short of real leadership figures.

"People with real leadership quality are unlikely to have got this far in the past two decades [of China's history]," he said. "They would have been weeded out."

"Those with some talent, like Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao, the earliest kind [of reformers] are all gone now."

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translation and additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie.

Link to original story on RFA website

Copyright notice: Copyright © 2006, RFA. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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