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    Greater China
     Nov 16, 2012

Hu hands China's military baton to Xi
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - The Chinese Communist Party, undergoing a once-in-a-decade change of its top leadership, confirmed on Thursday that Xi Jinping will take over the top party role as general secretary but surprised by announcing that Xi will take over from President Hu Jintao as head of the Central Military Commission (CMC). The appointment of Wang Qishan as top anti-graft official also indicates the new government's sense of priorities.

Xi was officially elected along with other appointments to the core Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, whose own new membership was selected yesterday by the party's 18th National


Congress. The PSC was reduced in membership to seven from nine.

Xi, 59, will take over the state presidency from Hu at the National People's Congress (NPC) next March, when he will formally become the country's supreme leader. The other new leaders will also take up their government posts at that time.

The appointment of Xi as head of the CMC means outgoing President Hu has agreed to go into full retirement rather than follow the path of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who stayed on as CMC chairman for couple of years after giving up his party and state posts. After Hu passes his state presidency to Xi at the NPC in March, he will hold no official position.

It is speculated in Beijing that Hu has become tired by the intervention in party and state affairs of retired party elders and wants to use his own full retirement to put an end to such practices in China's political life. Accordingly, approving his request for full retirement, the party has also made a resolution to ban retired leaders from meddling in party and state affairs. If this is the case, then it is truly a mark of progress in Chinese politics.

Other PSC members, with their new posts to be confirmed by the NPC in March, are:
  • Li Keqiang (57) at present vice premier, to succeed Wen Jiabao as prime minister.
  • Zhang Dejiang (66) at present vice premier and Chongqing party chief, to succeed Wu Bangguo as NPC chairman.
  • Yu Zhengsheng (67) at present Shanghai party chief, to succeed Jia Qingling as chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
  • Liu Yunshan (65), at present party propaganda chief, to oversee party operations and propaganda affairs.
  • Wang Qishan (64), at present vice premier, is appointed as head of the CCP's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI), the party's top anti-graft watchdog.
  • Zhang Gaoli (66), at present Tianjin party chief, to be executive vice premier.

    Wang Qishan's appointment as CCDI chief was not entirely expected. It had been speculated that he would take the CPPCC chairmanship or executive vice premiership.

    But this is a wise choice. Wang is known for his ability to deal with crises. A protege of former premier Zhu Rongji, he was regularly sent to wherever these occurred. As such he is known as the party's "chief fire-fighter". Appointing him to head the CCDI is evidence that Xi takes seriously the uphill battle the party faces against corruption. A shrewd, no-nonsense Wang leading the anti-graft watchdog serves as a major deterrent to corrupt officials. Given his past record, he surely will not let big fish slip away easily.

    This said, however, one individual's role should not be exaggerated. Zhu Rongji once expressed his determination to curb official corruption by saying: "I'll have 100 coffins prepared. Ninety-nine are for corrupt officials and the last one is for myself."

    But corruption was not effectively contained during his tenure (an excuse for Zhu could be that he mainly oversaw economic and financial affairs). The root of corruption lies in the Chinese system. Whether Wang can or will design a reform of the system to set up an effective anti-graft mechanism remains to be seen.

    The appointment may also be a good move for Wang himself, as he is a man of action rather than talk. The CPPCC is a venue to liaise with non-communist parties and people with leading roles in society and is thus more like a house for talk shows. Although the CPPCC chairmanship is a higher-profile post than the one Wang is taking, the CCDI has more real power. For one thing, a CCDI clearance is a must for the promotion of a senior official.

    At the same time, given Wang's expertise in economics and finance, his skills would also be valuable as the executive vice premier overseeing economic and financial affairs. The consideration behind this is perhaps a reflection also of the desire for better teamwork among the new leadership. If Wang were to take the first vice premiership, Li Keqiang would inevitably become a very weak premier. This would not be good for Li in his second term five years on, when Wang will have to retire.

    In any case, Wang will still retain influence on economic affairs, especially financial matters. Leading financial officials such as heads of the securities, insurance and banking regulators are all his proteges.

    The new PSC members represent various factions. Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan are princelings; Li Keqiang belongs to Hu's Communist Youth League faction; Yu Zhengsheng is a princeling and is considered a protege of Jiang Zemin; Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli are also Jiang's proteges. Hence, Jiang's Shanghai faction seems to have gained an upper hand in the reshuffle.

    In face of arduous tasks ahead, however, they are all in the same boat and will have to work together and compromise when differences emerge among them.

    A feature of the new PSC is that its members are better educated than their predecessors. Both Xi and Li hold PhDs (Xi's in law from Tsinghua University and Li's in economics from Peking University). This is unprecedented.

    They are also younger, all being born in the late 1940s or early 1950s. As such, they all grew up in the era of Mao Zedong. Having suffered starvation during the Great Leap Forward, experienced the Cultural Revolution and worked at the grassroots level, they know which path is better for China and will support reform and opening up. In this sense, they all could be said to be reform-minded, though this does not necessarily mean that they will be in agreement on all reform policies and measures.

    All except Liu Yunshan have experience in running a province and know the difficulties of local government; they are also aware of the tricks that can be played by local officials, and will not be easily fooled.

    Qualitative goals
    It is a good sign for them that Hu will not be staying on as CMC chairman. If Hu in retirement indeed keeps his hands off party and state affairs, Xi and his team may be able to bring their own potential into full play. Even older-generation party elders like Jiang Zemin still want to meddle, but they will soon lose their steam given their age.

    The 18th party congress sets two targets - of doubling both gross domestic product (GDP) and people's incomes by 2020 compared with 2010. These are quantitative goals. To achieve them, the new team must ensure an annual growth of at least 7.5% for both GDP and incomes in the next eight years. If they fail to do so, people will become discontented with them.

    And they come to power at a bad time. While the Chinese economy may be bottoming out, the driving force for growth remains rather weak. Therefore, from day 1 in office, Xi and his team will have to wrack their brains on how to stimulate economic growth.

    They have also to clean the mess left by the Hu-Wen leadership.

    As the CCP accomplished its power transition with its 18th National Congress, the People's Daily, the party's flagship newspaper, published an article on its website to summarize the contributions of previous party leaders.

    "Chairman Mao led Chinese people to stand up, Deng Xiaoping led Chinese people to become rich, Jiang Zemin led Chinese people to grow stronger, and Hu Jintao led the Chinese people to take off (to the sky)," it said, quoting an elderly chicken farmer. It immediately causes a great uproar among Chinese netizens particularly with the praise of Hu.

    The Chinese economy has certainly taken off in past decade under the Hu-Wen leadership. But the country has paid a heavy price for the economic growth miracle - the wealth gap has widened, corruption is rife, problems of food and drug safety abound, eco-environmental disasters are numerous ... so much so that various surveys show that Chinese people nowadays feel less happy than before.

    Xi and his team will have to tackle these problems, none of which is easy to resolve. They will have to fight an uphill battle on every front.

    (Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

  • PLA reshuffle draws battle lines (Nov 15, '12)

    Xi to guide CCP from revolution to rule
    (Oct 17, '12)

    Beijing lines up new leaders (Aug 29, '12)



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