Changing of the guard in China

Sedona Chinn, Crier Staff

Two days after the US presidential election, China began its first leadership transition in a decade with the 18th Party Congress. Over the next couple years, the “fifth generation” of leadership will replace about two thirds of China’s government.

President Hu Jintao is expected to be succeeded by Xi Jinping, currently the Vice President of the People’s Republic of China. Observers are keen to speculate about whether Xi will be more progressive, having traveled extensively in the West and having broader support than his predecessor within the party, due to his family connections.

Others speculate that his deep ties with the military will result in a more formidable China with a more assertive regional strategy.

However, Jin Lao ’13, from Chengdu, China, feels that attaching a progressive or conservative ideology to the Chinese president is not, in fact, an accurate depiction of Chinese politics. “To us, the leader is perhaps more a name than a real person.”

He explains that factions within the Party may or may not be representative of different ideological perspectives. For example, the Shanghai elites could support a more liberal economic plan due to the nature of their ascendancy, but as they benefit off of the state controlled enterprises, this may not be the case.

Xi Jinping is a Princeling, the son of a revolutionary, and therefore part of a faction that has deep connections with high-ranking members in the Party.

The factional nature of the Party, Lao explains, means that the leader will reflect the relative balance of power within the party, not a chosen ideology.

Rather than worrying about the future policies of the next generation of Chinese leadership, as many analysts are now doing, Lao was concerned with the events leading up to the Party Congress.

The Bo Xilai scandal affected the highest levels of government as new leaders were being decided. The Party Congress, initially scheduled for September, was pushed back to November, and Xi Jinping himself disappeared from the public view, cancelling meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Prime Minister of Denmark. It was later reported that his absence was due to injuring his back while swimming.

In addition, the escalating tension with Japan over the Senkaku islands brought anti-Japanese protesters into Chinese streets. Normally, the Chinese government would restrict protests, but instead they were permitted.

These four events cast uncertainty on the stability of the leadership transition. Lao speculates that Party officials had not yet come to an agreement on who would take power. Allowing public sentiment to build against a common enemy would strengthen the nation in a moment of uncertainty.

Chinese leadership ultimately reflects a balance of power between factions rather than a chosen ideology, the events leading up to the Party Congress created some uncertainty about competing factions. The choice of Xi Jinping as the presumptive successor to President Hu, therefore, offers little indication about the direction of future Chinese policy. It remains to be seen whether the new government will tend towards conservative policies or be more apt to reforms.