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    Greater China
     Feb 7, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Power in China: Through a glass, darkly

By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - Beijing is China's capital city. And literally, under China's tradition of centralism, Beijing is the country's capital of nearly everything - political, economic, cultural, transportation and education - you name it. So it is not strange that Beijing it is also China's premier political rumor mill.

Rumors are particularly rife ahead of any important Communist Party or government meeting that could potentially lead to a reshuffle. During such occasions, gossip invariably flies from one resident to another in the city about who is to be promoted and

who to step down. Even a talkative taxi driver, on a long drive, can wax eloquent about what "has been discussed" by the top leadership, quoting "reliable" but invariably unnamed official sources.

In retrospect most such rumors have proved to be false. However, it would be totally unfair to say such rumors are fabricated by the ordinary residents. More likely they are deliberately spread by various factions within the Communist Party as part of their political maneuverings in the hope of grabbing more power in the upcoming reshuffle.

The party is scheduled to convene its 17th National Congress in the fall. The five-yearly congress will elect a new Central Committee - the party's policymaking body. In turn, the Central Committee will elect a new Politburo and the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The current Standing Committee of the Politburo has nine members. They are (in order of the party's hierarchy):
  • Hu Jintao, 65, who is also party chief, state president and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
  • Wu Bangguo, 66, who is also chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament.
  • Wen Jiabao, 65, who is also the premier of the State Council.
  • Jia Qinglin, 67, who is also chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.
  • Zeng Qinghong, 68, who is also vice president.
  • Huang Ju, 69, who is also executive vice premier.
  • Wu Guanzheng, 69, who is secretary of the party's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, the country's top anti-graft watchdog.
  • Li Changchun, 63, who is the party's propaganda czar.
  • Luo Gan, 72, who is secretary of the party's Central Committee of Politics and Law overseeing the country's law enforcement.

    Of the nine, some will definitely have to step down at the 17th Congress because of their age or state of health. For instance, Huang Ju reportedly suffers from pancreatic cancer and has not been able to work full-time for the past year, and thus is unlikely to be re-elected. Li Changchun, the youngest among the nine, is also said to be in poor health and likely to retire in the autumn.

    In Mao Zedong's era, a senior party official would remain at his post until his last breath. Launching economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping also tried to rejuvenate the party leadership by setting age limits on senior posts. But then setting age restrictions could also make it convenient to launch a power struggle if anyone wanted to get rid of political rivals.

    At the party's 15th National Congress in 1997, Jiang Zemin, Hu's predecessor, set the age limit for a Politburo member at 70. In this way, he eased out major rival Qiao Shi, then 73 and a more senior party veteran than Jiang himself. It is said that Hu is determined to make the party leadership even younger at the 17th Congress by lowering the age limit. The age limit for one to be eligible to be elected into the Politburo will likely be 68.

    If that happens, Wu Guanzheng and Luo Gan will have to go. Zeng Qinghong would become a borderline case. Zeng was born in July 1939 and will be well past his 68th birthday when the Congress is convened - believed to be some time in October. A rumor now has it that Hu wants Zeng to stay on to provide the power balance, as Zeng, whose father used to be a comrade-in-arms of Mao, is a representative of the princelings.

    Zeng was brought to the power center from Shanghai by Jiang himself and thus used to be regarded as a key member of the so-called Shanghai clique. However, it is now said that for the sake of the party's unity Zeng became an ally of Hu after the latter became the supreme leader. He reportedly threw his whole weight behind Hu's purge of former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu, an important member of the Shanghai clique, on suspicion of corruption. This could be an additional reason for Hu to want Zeng to stay.

    More important, there are political considerations in the upcoming leadership reshuffle. Of the nine members of the current Standing Committee, several are Jiang's proteges, through whom Jiang retains influence. Wu Bangguo, Zeng Qinghong and Huang Ju came from Shanghai, though Wu is said to be keeping his distance from the Shanghai Gang. Jia Qinglin used to work directly under Jiang when the latter headed the Ministry of 

    Continued 1 2 

  • China renews its morality drive (Feb 2, '07)

    Shanghai clique takes another hit (Jan 27, '07)

    Rumors of a split in China's elite (Jan 17, '07)


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