FREELY Respect for elders trumps
reform By Zhengxu Wang
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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
The final line-up announced on
November 15 made it clear that the Party favors
pragmatism and experience over bold words and
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
click hereif you are interested in