Asia Time Online - Daily News
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

    Greater China
     Nov 28, 2012

Respect for elders trumps reform
By Zhengxu Wang

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

For all the raging conjecture over the behind-the-scenes power wrangling ahead of the Communist Party Congress, it was old-fashioned Chinese respect for seniority that won out in the race to the seven-man standing committee.

The final line-up announced on November 15 made it clear that the Party favors pragmatism and experience over bold words and ambition.

Ultimately the selection bodes well for stability as China approaches a critical juncture in its long and winding transition to


developed economy status. Yet many are disappointed by the explicit rejection of a new era of calculated risk-taking and change that is required to drive through political and economic reforms.

Besides Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, the five new members - Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli - are all more "tried and tested" than those who failed to make the cut.

Zhang Dejiang, Yu, and Liu have all served two terms in the Politburo, while Wang has served one term in the Politburo in addition to one term as a vice premier. Zhang Gaoli, while having served only one term in the Politburo, has been on the Central Committee as a full member for two terms.

Zhang Dejiang served as the Party Secretary of Zhejiang and Guangdong, China's two economic powerhouse provinces. He has served one term as the vice premier in charge of industrial policy, and was parachuted into Chongqing at a time when the Bo Xilai scandal threatened to jeopardize the whole succession process.

Zhang Gaoli ran Shenzhen City for many years. Several of the city's previous officials had fallen foul of corruption or other misdemeanors - a former mayor was sentenced to life in prison. Zhang, however, emerged as capable, clean and error-free, later being moved to Shandong and then Tianjin. His success in Tianjin has been well documented, as the city became a new center of China's economic boom.

The same can be said for Wang Qishan and to a lesser extent Yu Zhengsheng. The latter has received favorable reviews from residents in Hubei and Shanghai, where he has been based for his last two posts. In fact Yu would have been promoted much earlier had his career not been affected by a family scandal involving his brother.

By contrast, officials who generate catchy campaign slogans and loud fanfare are deemed inexperienced and guilty of over ambition. The disgraced Bo Xilai is a case in point.

The two leading contenders that missed out on standing committee status, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, have both only served one term as full members of the Central Committee.

Their exclusion lays bare the misalignment between the way in which the Party thinks internally and how it is viewed by outsiders. Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao both enjoy favorable public images yet failed to garner the necessary support from their Party colleagues.

In governing such a complex society and economy, those who can demonstrate hard-earned, on-the-job experience will always triumph over younger, more reformist and more enterprising officials like Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang.

An obsession with stability meant that the much-publicized struggle between competing power factions never really materialized and proved the Chinese leadership is still capable of taking decisive action when the chips are down.

The whole system of Party leadership selection is weighted towards conservatism and so the final line-up came as little surprise given the enduring influence of the retired Party elite, dominated by ex-president Jiang Zemin.

Hu Jintao's style was one that emphasized respect for elders. Documents released from the Party Congress show that Jiang Zemin enjoyed the formal role of "General Consultant" for 'personnel issues' at the Congress and that all retired Politburo Standing Committee members participated in the negotiation process.

Indeed Hu himself proved willing to sacrifice factional interests - he had backed the reform-minded Li Yuanchao - for the sake of a smooth transition, although this perhaps also reflects the weakness of his position at the end of his tenure.

The fact is that all the top officials have made it through the Party's complex institutional process unscathed, meaning they are more or less equally competent, do not rock the boat and harbor similar political ideologies to those espoused by the Party. They are neither reformist nor liberal; they are in effect all the same.

Under these new leaders then, we can expect some form of reform and change to come. But instead of charting a bumpy, unpredictable course, any diversion from the norm will be managed very carefully. For now, this approach must be the right one.

Dr Zhengxu Wang is Associate Professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, and Deputy Director of the University's China Policy Institute.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

(Copyright 2012 Zhengxu Wang)




All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110