Category Archives: 2012 power transfer

Last Takes on the Party Congress

A few more before the Congress fades out and life under the new regime begins. First, from Evan Osnos:

On Thursday, however, the Great Hall of the People returned to its full orthodox splendor, if only for a few hours, for a peculiar ritual to mark the arrival of the new Standing Committee of the Politburo, the group of seven men who will lead the People’s Republic for the next ten years. (If they succeed, China’s Communist Party will have edged out the Soviet Union for the title of history’s longest-serving authoritarian regime.) Their début is, by tradition, a kind of Communist catwalk—officially, a “meet the press” opportunity, though no questions are asked, and none are answered. It is a performance as retro and choreographed as “Cats,” but, in its details, it gave us a few intriguing hints about the men who will seek to project China’s Communist Party into the future.

In person, Xi is a sharp contrast to the man he replaces, the robotic Hu Jintao, who spoke esoteric jargon about “harmonious society” and “a scientific outlook on development.” Hu leaves office unloved.

Divining anything about Xi’s politics from his public persona is a mug’s game, but one thing is beyond doubt: he conveys an understanding of style that utterly eluded his predecessor, and an awareness that he will be judged more openly and mercilessly than any paramount Chinese leader before him. His citizens’ experience with technology, prosperity, and cynicism has forced him to confront a problem that is now more acute than his predecessors ever faced: he was never elected, but he must figure out a way to be liked.

Those gestures of populist sensibility—the sense that, like it or not, the Party must figure out a way to be responsive—stand out especially because they are at odds with the credentials of the men that Xi will have by his side. Xi did not choose them exactly; they are a compromise between powerful families and factions. And when the members were unveiled, their composition confirmed what pundits had predicted: reform-minded candidates had been sidelined. Instead, the Party chose some of its most ardent conservatives. One is a seasoned propagandist. Another received his economics training in North Korea. They were so faithful to precedent that all but one wore a nearly identical dark suit and red tie.

When it was all over this morning, and the seven men had returned once again to the secluded backstage of the Great Hall of the People, trailed by their security, and the stage where they had stood was suddenly empty. I walked up to the spot where Xi Jinping had stood to deliver his remarks. It was carpeted in a brilliant shade of red, and at his feet there was a small piece of tape in the shape of the number one, to indicate where the most powerful man in China should stand. He looked out over a line of poinsettias and ferns, to a wall of cameras, and a world of expectations from his people. It must have been terrifying.

Next, a speculative piece from Bloomberg:

China’s new leadership, headed by Xi Jinping, will probably unveil new market-oriented changes in late 2013, according to Li Jiange, head of the country’s biggest investment bank.

Li, chairman of China International Capital Corp. and a vice chairman of state-owned Central Huijin Investment Co., which holds stakes in the nation’s biggest lenders, said the focus will probably be on reducing government intervention in the economy and breaking up state monopolies. Li spoke at Caixin Media’s annual conference in Beijing yesterday.

“Expectations are high” for the new leadership to make changes as government intervention, ranging from excessive regulation to rigid price controls, has become “unbearable” over the last couple of years, said Li, who previously worked for the Development Research Center, an organization that advises the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“When inflation was high, many Chinese stores, merchants and even producers received phone calls from regulators telling them not to increase prices,” Li said. “But how can a supermarket not change the price of pork if hog prices are rising,” he said.

There are also some sources speculating that Xi is planning to unveil changes to religious policies with an eye towards improving the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang- more if I see a proper writeup about it. Next, Susan Shirk at Chinafile says that the age of China’s new leaders may have been a key point in choosing this seven-person group:

So without an election, how did the self-interested supremos manage to agree on how power at the top would be shared?

But there is a third possibility that looks just as plausible: namely, reliance on a seniority principle. The new PBSC is more than one year older on average than the last one (63.4 vs 62.1 years). The new leaders who were promoted to the Standing Committee are all sixty-four years old or older. Of the seven members, all but General Secretary Xi Jinping and the presumptive premier Li Keqiang will need to retire in five years after one term. At that time, five (or more, depending on the size of the next PBSC) additional politicians now on the Politburo will get the chance to move up.

Seniority, plus a norm of five-year instead of ten-year terms, allows power, patronage, and the other rewards of top office to be shared more widely so that no one loses too much. Xi Jinping can work to get his close associates into the PBSC in 2017.

In this transition, there were eight Politburo members competing for five PBSC slots, which means three disappointed and potentially disgruntled losers: Wang Yang (age fifty-seven), Li Yuanchao (age sixty-two), and Liu Yandong (female, age sixty-seven). Wang Yang and Liu Yuanchao likely will be consoled with a soft promise (not enforceable, of course) that they will move up next time. The only one who has reached the glass ceiling is Madame Liu, and they are probably counting on her, as one of the very rare women ever to rise to a senior political position, not to push back.

Seniority, a useful rule for managing the social strain of competition in organizations everywhere, has helped the CCP leadership solve the power-sharing problem this time around. But it has worsened its credibility problem by widening the gap between the Party’s rhetoric about intra-party democracy and the highly secretive and concentrated process its leaders actually used.

And finally, Edward Wong on the lack of real meritocracy in the Party:

The Communist Party and its acolytes like to brag that the party promotion system is a meritocracy, producing leaders better suited to run a country than those who emerge from the cacophony of elections and partisan bickering in full-blown democracies. But critics, including a number of party insiders, say that China’s secretive selection process, rooted in personal networks, has actually created a meritocracy of mediocrity.

Instead of pure talent, political patronage and family connections are the critical factors in ascending to the top, according to recent academic studies and analyses of the backgrounds of the leaders.

In the United States and other Western countries, some prominent political families have certainly wielded power through successive generations — think of the Kennedys or Bushes — but entrenched dynasties and the influence of elders are becoming particularly noteworthy in China. The increasing prevalence of the so-called princelings, those related by birth or marriage to earlier Communist Party luminaries, is one sure sign that family background plays a decisive role in ascending to power. Four of the new standing committee members, including Xi Jinping, come from the red aristocracy. One of them, Wang Qishan, who seems to prefer blue ties, married into it.

“Xi Jinping himself didn’t come to power because of outstanding political achievements,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a rights lawyer, who added that he believed the new leadership was “quite mediocre.”

“Normal logic is that based on a meritocracy, whoever is better in terms of performance should be picked,” said Bo Zhiyue, a scholar of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “But in Chinese politics, they have a logic of reverse selection,” he added. “If A is better than B, then A should be eliminated.”

That antimeritocracy logic was at work even in the assigning of portfolios. Many political insiders say that of the seven men, Wang Qishan, with his years of experience in the finance sector, would be the most able to take on day-to-day management of China’s economy. But they said he was shunted aside to be head of an anticorruption commission because Li Keqiang, the second-ranked party member and designated heir to the title of government premier, which carries overall responsibility for the economy, and other leaders feared sharing that power with the confident Mr. Wang would cause friction.

“It’s sort of absurd,” said Wu Jiaxiang, once an adviser to Zhao Ziyang, the party chief purged during the 1989 student uprising. “It shows how power games can distort the arrangements.”

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Party Congress Reaction Roundup

The NYT covers the end of the Congress:

Minutes before noon on Thursday, after a confirmation vote by the party’s new Central Committee, Mr. Xi, 59, strode onto a red-carpeted stage at the Great Hall of the People accompanied by six other party officials who will form the new Politburo Standing Committee, the elite group that makes crucial decisions on the economy, foreign policy and other major issues. Before their appearance, the new lineup was announced by Xinhua, the state news agency.

“We have every reason to be proud — proud, but not complacent,” said Mr. Xi, looking relaxed in a dark suit and a wine-red tie. “Inside the party, there are many problems that need be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy, and other issues.” He added, “To forge iron, one must be strong.”

Mr. Hu, 69, also turned over the post of civilian chairman of the military on Thursday to Mr. Xi, which made this transition the first time since the promotion of the ill-fated Hua Guofeng in 1976 that a Chinese leader had taken office as head of the party and the military at the same time. That gives Mr. Xi a stronger base from which to consolidate his power, even as he grapples with the continuing influence of party elders.

Two points from Isaac Stone Fish on the differences with this new generation of leaders:

-They’re not engineers any more.

In 2006, each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee had trained as an engineer; then-President Hu Jintao studied hydropower while his Premier Wen Jiabao was an expert in geology. That started to shift with the ascension in 2007 of China’s new leader Xi Jinping (he studied law along with chemical engineering) and his deputy Li Keqiang (who studied law and received a PhD in economics). The latest lineup features a far more diverse band of former economists, research fellows, and even a journalist. Without reading too much into how career background affects leadership styles — a 2006 article comparing U.S. and Chinese leaders in Bloomberg said that “engineers strive for ‘better,’ while lawyers prepare for the worst — it does mean that they bring a more varied set of experiences to the job.

-China’s new leader is far more personable than the last chairman.

By smiling and seeming relaxed, Xi already proved himself a far more natural presence than Hu Jintao, the faceless, stiflingly boring bureaucrat who stepped down yesterday. Hu and his interregnum of boringness was the exception rather than the rule. The despotic Mao Zedong astounded people with his charisma; the 4’11 Deng Xiaoping, who ran China in the 1980s and 1990s, charmed with his smile. Even though nature bestowed Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao’s predecessor as president of China, with less of an ability to appear at ease, he at least tried to be likeable. If we’re lucky, Xi will end the last decade’s tradition of devastatingly boring speeches.

And finally, a strong piece from Sophie Richardson of HRW on what Xi and company could do right now to fix some of China’s human rights problems:

1. Set the Courts Free

Creating independent entities whose highest loyalty is not to the party but to the law itself would go a long way towards stemming corruption and renewing some of the waning faith in the system. Xi could abolish the party judicial committees that dictate some court rulings, and allow for the establishment of a truly independent bar association and for lawyers to operate according to their professional judgment rather than local officials’ political concerns. Such changes will invariably mean more prosecutions of party members and challenges to various laws, but a wiser leader would prefer to see these play out in a courtroom than face public ire and international embarassment.

2. Liberalize the Press

The Chinese constitution already provides lip service to freedom of expression, but the rise of the Internet has made censoring and controlling media content an endless and ultimately losing battle. Yes, a free press will mean embarrassing scandals and criticism of the government, but this is already happening. The benefits to the government of good information from China’s many excellent journalists and the opportunity to explain government initiatives devoid of propaganda could temper the discomfiture of exposure.

5. Improve Treatment of Ethnic Minorities

Beijing’s policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, which constitute about half of China’s territory, may be its greatest human rights failure over the last decade. Massive investment and infrastructure development have done little to offset the anger and despair of Tibetans and Uighurs forced to endure ever-tightening restrictions on their culture, language, movements, and religion. In the wake of protests in Tibetan areas in 2008 and in Xinjiang in 2009, the central government did not address underlying grievances, instead responding with enforced disappearances and harsh sentences. Since that time, access to both regions has been heavily restricted. It should be a source of profound shame and sense of failure to Beijing that at least 62 Tibetans have chosen to protest these policies by setting themselves ablaze, and it is hard to see the disproportionate indictment of Uighurs on state security charges and the razing of ancient parts of the Silk Road city of Kashgar as anything other than a grim indications of Beijing’s strategy for these regions.

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“Party Congress Diary, Day 4″

FP’s Kathleen McLaughlin has been posting updates from Beijing over the last week, and her latest is a look at the unrelenting sexism of the Communist Party:

Moving in synchronicity with their interchangeable smart suits and tidy hairstyles, the most noticeable women at the 18th party congress are, by design, part of the backdrop. Several hundred young women, chosen from a nationwide search, are working during the week as “ceremony girls,” a ubiquitous feature of official China, inside both the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where the congress is being held and the media center in the Western part of the city, as the Chinese Communist Party installs its next generation of top leaders.

Serving tea, ushering people to their seats, and standing in neat rows while posing for the cameras, “ceremony girls” are ever present in official China, from the sexy soldiers marching in China’s 60th-anniversary parade in 2009 to the young women delivering medals at 2008′s Beijing Olympics.

Their constant, attentive presence is a glaring reminder of what is forever missing from China’s top tier of power: women. They can pour tea with a smile, but they don’t get a seat at the table.

Gender discrimination often seems to be getting worse in China: Although a large percentage of Chinese women are employed (70 percent, compared with 25 percent in India), urban Chinese women earn about 67 percent of what men make, according to a 2010 survey from the All-China Women’s Federation. This summer, women in Guangzhou shaved their heads in protest of growing discriminatory policies around the country that require girls to score higher than boys on college entrance exams.

China’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report, which measures gender parity, is falling, from 57th place in 2008 to 69th this year.

“The gender-equality situation in China has not actually been improving in the past 30 years,” says Chan. “A small percentage of women can rise to the top in business and some sectors, but far more women are stuck in low-paid positions and service industries.”

Chan said there is “massive need” for policies that will improve women’s standing in China — things like girls’ education, affordable child care, and basic social services. “If any country prioritizes economic development and social stability ahead of social development, this kind of thing is bound to happen,” she says. “Historically and culturally, women in China have always been treated and still are treated as less important.” Just ask the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, which on Nov. 9 published a slide show called: “‘Beautiful scenery’ at 18th CPC National Congress.” The scenery in the slide show? Women.

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“The Communist Party goes Kodachrome”

Evan Osnos with a good one on what we see in the Party Congress, and what we don’t see:

For a week, Beijing is flirting with memories of the pre-Internet age. By ramping up the electronic network of censors, dead ends, and other roadblocks, the government has succeeded in making the Internet, at times, as balky and circumscribed as at any moment since the Web arrived in China nearly a decade ago. It would be easy to forget that China now has nearly six hundred million people online, because the Chinese-language microblogs and forums have been scrubbed of the humiliating double entendre and mockery that citizens now pour forth on the Party and its leaders. At times, Google and Gmail disappear entirely. The outside world’s most nettlesome newspaper, the Times, has been blacked out. Likewise, it’s easy to think we’re back in the days before Bloomberg was anything but a person, because that site is blacked out, too, for publishing details on the fortunes of senior Party oligarchs, a subject the government considers an appalling breach of decorum.

For a week, all is quiet on China’s Western front, as far as the Party is concerned. It would be easy to miss the fact that six Tibetan protesters set themselves on fire in the course of two days last week, to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet, because the only Tibetan participants you’re likely to meet in the Great Hall of the People this week are the kinds of Tibetans who call each other “comrade,” speak Mandarin, and point out, as the delegation did on Thursday, that the Tibetan capital has been voted the happiest city in China four times in the last five years. To make sure that the present doesn’t intrude on that memory, teams of guards are stationed outside the Great Hall with fire extinguishers in case anyone tries to burn themselves.

For a week, the Party is unified, tolerant of debate, and clear in its mission. To ensure that today’s complexities do not encroach on that, the State Council Information Office, which helps tell the Chinese media what it can report, advised all Chinese news publications that they are “forbidden from reporting on, commenting on or publishing Hu Deping‘s online article ‘Reform Cannot be Wasted.’” Hu, the scion of the late leader Hu Yaobang, is a frequent critic of the Party’s reluctance to reform, but there’s no reason for newspaper readers to be burdened with those ins and outs. It was just one of scores of advisories given to the Chinese media this week to maintain what filmmakers call continuity. It is the authoritarian equivalent of ensuring that the extras in the shot aren’t wearing digital watches.

Like all parties, the Party’s party will come to an end, eventually: Thursday, to be precise, when the next generation of leaders will be revealed to the world. It will be up to those men to face the reality of the Party’s future, if the present is not unnerving enough.

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“Li Keqiang, China’s next premier, carries reformers’ hopes”

A good read to raise our hopes while we wait for the end of the Party Congress:

Li is described as an extremely intelligent self-taught speaker of English and a loyal Communist Party member who gave up a rare opportunity to study abroad when the party asked him to stay in China to work organizing students at Peking University as a top official in the Communist Youth League. It was at the university that Li made friendships with many outspoken pro-democracy advocates, some of whom were jailed or went into exile after the 1989 military crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

But some said he is not ruthless enough for the party’s internal maneuverings — a fact that some colleagues said may have relegated him to the No. 2 job, and not the presidency, which will go to the current vice president Xi Jinping.

Li entered Peking University, China’s most prestigious, in February 1978. Yang Baikui, who was an international politics student there, worked with Li for one year while at the school, translating an English book, “The Due Process of Law,” by British jurist Lord Denning. The book was brought to China by a professor, Gong Xiangrui, then one of China’s few British-trained lawyers, who inculcated his students in the ideas of Western-style liberalism and constitutional law.

“He learned a lot from the book he and I translated,” Yang recalled. “I’m not sure about democracy. But I’m sure he believes in constitutional government. And also the rule of law.”

Li had little formal English training. But Yang and others recall how Li diligently carried a stack of small notecards, held together with an elastic band, with English words on one side and the Chinese translation on the other. He would study the cards while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the school cafeteria. He became so proficient that in 2011 he stunned listeners at a Hong Kong University event by breaking protocol and speaking for two minutes in fluent English.

Li’s rise has not been without controversy. In Henan, where Li became governor in 1998, he has been criticized for not taking steps to prevent the spread of the AIDS epidemic to hundreds of thousands of villagers who were contaminated after donating blood through a government program.

Most of the infections happened before Li was governor. But one critic, Chen Bingzhong, a 79-year-old former head of China’s National Institute of Health Education, wrote an open letter that appeared on overseas Chinese Web sites in September calling Li “unsuitable to be the leader of a country.”

Will we get the rule of law aficionado, or the AIDS ignorer, or just another do-nothing Wen Jiabao?

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“The man who must change China”

The Economist board has an editorial describing Xi Jinping as the man who “must” change China:

As ruler of the world’s new economic powerhouse, Mr Xi will follow his recent predecessors in trying to combine economic growth with political stability. Yet this task is proving increasingly difficult. A slowing economy, corruption and myriad social problems are causing growing frustration among China’s people and worry among its officials.

In coping with these tensions, Mr Xi can continue to clamp down on discontent, or he can start to loosen the party’s control. China’s future will be determined by the answer to this question: does Mr Xi have the courage and vision to see that assuring his country’s prosperity and stability in the future requires him to break with the past?

Until recently, the Chinese were getting richer so fast that most of them had better things to worry about than how they were governed. But today China faces a set of threats that an official journal describes as “interlocked like dog’s teeth”. The poor chafe at inequality, corruption, environmental ruin and land-grabs by officials. The middle class fret about contaminated food and many protect their savings by sending money abroad and signing up for foreign passports. The rich and powerful fight over the economy’s vast wealth. Scholars at a recent government conference summed it up well: China is “unstable at the grass roots, dejected at the middle strata and out of control at the top”.

Once, the party could bottle up dissent. But ordinary people today protest in public. They write books on previously taboo subjects and comment on everything in real time through China’s vibrant new social media. Complaints that would once have remained local are now debated nationwide. If China’s leaders mishandle the discontent, one senior economist warned in a secret report, it could cause “a chain reaction that results in social turmoil or violent revolution”.

But, you don’t need to think that China is on the brink of revolution to believe that it must use the next decade to change. The departing prime minister, Wen Jiabao, has more than once called China’s development “unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable”. Last week Qiushi , the party’s main theoretical journal, called on the government to “press ahead with restructuring of the political system”.

Ultimately, this newspaper hopes, political reform would make the party answerable to the courts and, as the purest expression of this, free political prisoners. It would scrap party-membership requirements for official positions and abolish party committees in ministries. It would curb the power of the propaganda department to impose censorship and scrap the central military commission, which commits the People’s Liberation Army to defend the party, not just the country.

No doubt Mr Xi would balk at that. Even so, a great man would be bold. Independent candidates should be encouraged to stand for people’s congresses, the local parliaments that operate at all levels of government, and they should have the freedom to let voters know what they think. A timetable should also be set for directly electing government leaders, starting with townships in the countryside and districts in the cities, perhaps allowing five years for those experiments to settle in, before taking direct elections up to the county level in rural areas, then prefectures and later provinces, leading all the way to competitive elections for national leaders.

Mr Xi comes at a crucial moment for China, when hardliners still deny the need for political change and insist that the state can put down dissent with force. For everyone else, too, Mr Xi’s choice will weigh heavily. The world has much more to fear from a weak, unstable China than from a strong one.

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“Amid Calls For Reform, China Waits For New Leaders”

From Louisa Lim at NPR, a good one to read while we wait for the new guys to take over:

Even the state-run media is on the offensive. Two months ago, an editor at the Study Times newspaper wrote an article declaring that the problems caused by the past decade’s policies “are even more numerous than the achievements.”

This was followed by a call for reform in the party publication Seeking Truth, which pronounced that “stagnation and turning back is a dead end.”

Historian Zhang Lifan believes this essay is significant.

“That a conservative magazine is singing about reform shows a change in attitude at the top,” says Zhang. “I don’t think they’ve reached consensus on how reform will be carried out. They just realize they can’t continue as before.”

Zhang himself sees the party’s future in absolute terms, predicting either “reform within five years or death within 10 years.”

The new president isn’t all-powerful, however. He’ll be first among equals in a collective leadership. Currently that committee consists of nine people, but rumors are circulating that it will be reduced to seven posts.

Only two of the current members of the committee will remain: Xi and his premier, Li Keqiang. As for the rest of the positions, horse-trading could continue until the very last minute.

But the black box of Chinese politics means all this happens behind closed doors. Zhang, the historian, warns of the dangers of oversimplification.

“Westerners think black is black and white is white,” he says. “How could they know that for Chinese, black contains white, white contains red, red contains black, everything is mixed. It’s rather complicated.”

In less than three weeks, a new chapter in China’s political history will begin at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. However, no one knows how many men or women will rule China, or who they are. Change may be coming, but the question remains just how much.

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“Bo Xilai’s son returns to China to play role in father’s ‘imminent’ trial”

So… is this thing actually happening? Rumors have been surfacing that claim Bo Xilai will be put on trial tomorrow night. I’ve seen a few facts put forth that make that seem unlikely, but would anyone really be surprised by the Party doing this suddenly and without warning? I guess we’ll see in a few hours. Malcolm Moore with some details:

Bo Guagua’s return to Beijing comes amid rumours that his father’s trial is imminent.

Mingjing News, a Hong Kong newspaper which has been more often wrong than right about Communist party politics, reported that the trial will begin on Monday in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.

Mr Bo is likely to be put on trial in a “neutral” location, well away from his power bases in Beijing, Chongqing and Dalian.

But Changsha, if correct, would be a theatrical flourish by the Party leadership: it is the home city of Mao Tse-tung, whose revolutionary ideology Mr Bo so often espoused.

One post on Weibo suggested that all Chinese newspapers have been instructed to “clear space” for major news arriving today or tomorrow.

However, one diplomatic source said the news could be Mr Bo’s indictment, rather than an actual trial. “I heard a rumour that charges will be laid at the court on October 15 or 16. If so, according to the criminal procedure law, a trial would follow within 15 days,” he added.

That leaves just enough time for the Party to wrap up the deeply divisive case before it opens its 18th Party Congress on November 8 and readies a once-in-a-decade change of its top leaders.

The younger Mr Bo will also have to tread carefully: some experts have said the evidence presented at his mother’s trial and at the trial of Wang Lijun, his father’s chief of police, could incriminate him.

“They laid the ground to bring charges against Bo Guagua if they want. If not, it means they have done a deal,” said the diplomatic source.

UPDATE: Turns out Bo Guagua may not even be in China, so… oops. More on this when it either happens or doesn’t happen.

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“China must reform or risk crisis, experts warn new leader”

Via Chris Buckley, another piece describing some of the advice Xi Jinping is receiving in the last days before he ascends to power:

“China’s economic and social contradictions seem to be nearing a threshold,” prominent Chinese economist Wu Jinglian said in a recent interview with Caijing business magazine.

Advocates of reform are pressing Xi to cut back the privileges of state-owned firms, make it easier for rural migrants to settle permanently in cities, fix a fiscal system that encourages local governments to live off land expropriations and, above all, tether the powers of a state that they say risks suffocating growth and fanning discontent.

Most party-linked proponents said in interviews with Reuters that political reform must start at the grassroots and be incremental; they called outright democracy a distant or unrealistic idea.

“You can’t solve all of these problems in a decade, but you can address the reforms urgently needed by ordinary people and show that you’re heading in the right direction,” said Deng Yuwen, an editor at the Study Times, a newspaper published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials.

The party’s recent unity behind a decision to punish disgraced politician Bo Xilai has kindled hopes among some that Xi can build similar accord for bolder reforms.

Xi is aware of the calls, said experts and party insiders. But heeding them will require him to take on economic and political blocs with a powerful hold over policy.

“Does the new leadership recognize that they’re reaching a key inflection point in their economic and political path? I think the answer is yes. But the other question is: Do they have the courage to act boldly on those problems,” said Christopher Johnson, a specialist on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

“Before each congress, there’s always a debate, but it feels sharper this time,” said Zhang Jianjing, editor of “China Reform” magazine, which has advocated pro-market policies and using the law to curb state power.

“There’s a deeper sense of anxiety now that goes beyond specific issues. There is a widespread sense of foreboding,” said Zhang, a journalist who has followed four party congresses.

But recently, Xi hinted that he understands the calls for him to take a bolder path, even if he wants to also put to rest any expectations he will seek a radical change.

In a talk with Hu Deping, son of the late reformist leader Hu Yaobang, Xi said he favored steady reform.

Signs the party leadership wants to trim the Politburo Standing Committee – the core of party power – from nine to seven members also appear to reflect a desire for more agile policy-setting.

Yet even if Xi wins a leadership lineup sympathetic to a bolder agenda, he faces the obstacle of pushing changes past powerful state sectors and state-owned conglomerates that have enjoyed privileged access to credit and opportunities.

He might also have to accommodate two retired leaders, Hu and his predecessor Jiang Zemin, who are likely to demand a say in big policy changes. That could make for unwieldy compromises bogging down change, said some advocates of reform.

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“With a Transition Near, New Questions in China”

Edward Wong has the latest from the Changing of the Guard series, in which he says that Chinese leaders are still trying to decide who will ascend to the Standing Committee in just a few weeks:

After nearly a year in which planning for the succession has been upset by an extraordinary string of scandals, the leaders and elders have finally agreed on Nov. 8 as the date to begin the 18th Party Congress, the climax of just the second peaceful transfer of power in China’s Communist era. Much of the back-and-forth over the succession, which officials have kept behind a curtain of secrecy, has involved horse-trading over leadership positions between a faction led by President Hu Jintao and one loyal to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

One blow to Mr. Hu this summer was the quiet unfolding of a scandal involving a powerful politician, Ling Jihua, who is Mr. Hu’s fixer. Now another stress point is becoming evident: Mr. Hu appears on the defensive over his legacy because of growing criticism that policies enacted during his decade-long tenure were responsible for the excessive growth of the security forces and also stalled an overhaul of the Chinese economy that is needed to maintain its dynamism.

“Right now, I think Hu feels very worried because a lot of people both inside and outside the party have been criticizing him,” said a party intellectual with ties to the leadership. “Some say he’s the worst leader China has had since 1949. Conflicts in society have intensified; monopolistic and antimarket tendencies in the economy seem to have intensified; and there’s been no real progress on reform.”

Speculation has swirled around the other potential candidates for the standing committee, which many predict will shrink to seven. Beyond the top two, three men are now seen as safe bets: Li Yuanchao, the head of the Organization Department and expected to be the next vice president; Wang Qishan, a vice premier; and Zhang Dejiang, another vice premier.

But after numerous twists, several other top candidates do not appear yet to have secured a seat. They include Yu Zhengsheng, party chief of Shanghai; Wang Yang, party chief of Guangdong Province; Zhang Gaoli, party chief of Tianjin; and Liu Yunshan, director of the Propaganda Department. If the standing committee remains at nine, Liu Yandong, China’s most senior female official, would have a greater chance at a seat, analysts say.

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“Beijing’s Dangerous Game”

Perry Link in the NYRoB on the anti-Japan protests, good as always:

Many have ascribed the vehemence of the protests to deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment linked to injustices committed by Japan eighty years ago. But there is little evidence to support this. Rather the protests appear to have everything to do with the interests of China’s current rulers, at a moment when the top leadership in Beijing is in turmoil.

The Chinese state media suggest that Chinese people have long memories of Japan’s invasion of China in 1931, when the Japanese army carried out a brutal massacre of civilians in the capital city of Nanjing in 1937. According to them, what we see today are echoes of this longstanding “national insult.” But there are not many people in China today who personally remember the 1930s. Recollections of these distant events handed down within families are not that strong, and moreover must compete with some terrible memories of the intervening Mao era. The anti-Japan expression that we see on the streets today springs largely from other sources.

In 1985, nine years after Mao’s death, a Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall opened in Nanjing. China’s textbooks and media also began to mention the massacre, and the government began to use the issue as a way to stimulate nationalism and draw support to itself. The anti-Japan vitriol that we see in the streets today comes much more from that “education” since the 1980s than it does from memories of the 1930s. In 1998 Jiang Zemin, China’s president, visited Japan and demanded a written apology for Japan’s invasion of China. Public demonstrations against Japan have flared occasionally since then, often after government prodding but always under government monitoring and control.

It is significant that the numbers of protesters, by Chinese standards, are small. Crowds are in the hundreds, rarely over a thousand. By contrast the crowd at the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen in 1989 reached a million at its peak. There is no doubt which cause had the deeper appeal. Today, too, measured in numbers, the complaints of Chinese protesters are overwhelmingly not about uninhabited islands but about things closer to home—corruption, pollution, land annexation, special privilege, and abuse of power—and the usual adversaries today are not Japan but Chinese officials and the wealthy people associated with them.

From the regime’s point of view, the reporting is the whole point. The purpose of instigating protests is to generate “mass opinion” to serve a political purpose. Let me offer an especially clear example from a different context. In March, 2008, in Lhasa, Tibet, young Tibetans went on a rampage against Chinese shop owners. Some people say that agents provocateurs were at work, some say not. But in either case, credible eyewitnesses on both sides reported that for several hours Chinese police stood by and did nothing. They watched the looting and burning of stores while reporters from state-owned media made video recordings. Only when the taping was over did the police step in, arresting hundreds. Then, during the ensuing seventy-two hours, Chinese television—nationwide—showed and re-showed the video footage, explaining that the Dalai Lama, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, had been the instigator of the mayhem. Twenty days later, when young Tibetans ventured onto the streets of Lhasa and seemed ready to protest again, the police quelled them instantly. This time there was no need for videotapes.

What is it, today, that the people at the top in China want to achieve by stimulating and advertising anti-Japan sentiment? They do not say, of course, so the world must guess, but in broad outline the guessing isn’t very hard. The people at the top, who are used to maintaining a smooth façade, have every reason right now to distract attention from the unexpectedly messy handover of power now taking place, the results of which are hugely important to them.

The men at the top are very adept at staying there, and doubtlessly are aware of the dangers of this game. To them, stirring up and giving media attention to anti-Japan sentiment is a way to further their psychological engineering of the Chinese public. They know that it carries a risk. But the potential damage to the regime that could come from letting the public concentrate on their power transition, or get a deeper look into how corruption and special privilege work, is even greater.

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Xi’s Back!

Xi ended some of the speculation by reappearing yesterday, but exactly what took him out of the public eye for so long remains unsaid. From Ian Johnson:

Mr. Xi, 59, was shown in photographs, posted on the Web site of the official Xinhua news agency, as he walked through the campus of China Agriculture University in Beijing for National Science Popularization Day. One of the photographs was accompanied by a brief caption saying that he would attend activities at the university on Saturday.

Mr. Xi, whose health had been called into question, looked fit, dressed in dark slacks, an open-collar white dress shirt and a dark jacket — the unofficial uniform of Communist Party officials out on inspection. He was flanked by several other officials in similar clothing.

It was the first time that Mr. Xi had been seen in public since he gave a speech on Sept. 1 to students at a party indoctrination school that he runs. Since then, he had canceled at least two meetings with foreign dignitaries and was conspicuously absent from evening newscasts or party-run newspapers, which usually give detailed accounts of the activities of top leaders. The report on Saturday did not mention any of this, part of a policy of not commenting on the health of leaders. Over the past week, government spokespeople have consistently refused to address the issue.

Meanwhile, John Garnaut from The Age has a piece confidently stating that Xi plans to take away some of the power that the Chinese security bureau has accumulated over the last decade:

Officials and analysts are confident that the leader of the security portfolio will be banished from the innermost leadership circle at the 18th Party Congress, as part of a downsizing of the Politburo Standing Committee from nine people to seven.

Downgrading the status of the internal security apparatus would be “perhaps the most important” initiative in the coming Congress, said Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

“The leader who controls the gun will not be allowed to sit in the supreme decision-making organ,” he said.

Leading scholars, such as Tsinghua University sociologist Sun Liping, have argued that China’s “stability preservation” regime has hijacked the reform agenda and thrown China’s political, social and economic life into a state of “abnormality”.

Efforts to forcefully impose stability have led to regular examples of Kafkaesque justice, where aggrieved citizens are persecuted for voicing their complaints, and those episodes are being broadcast across new internet and micro-blog networks.

The most high-profile case is that of Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who Shandong authorities had spent $US9.5 million on beating, monitoring and detaining under house arrest because of his advocacy against illegal forced abortions, and who nevertheless escaped to the US embassy in Beijing.

David Kelly, research director at China Policy, a Beijing advisory, pointed to a dynamic of perverse bureaucratic and political incentives where actors were rewarded with resources and power for exacerbating social instability.

“It’s not simply an exercise in totalitarian revivalism, because of the role of money,” he said.

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So… Where is Xi Jinping?

It’s getting to be more and more of a mystery every day, so today I’ll just pull a few of the pieces trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. First, from Malcolm Moore, allegations that Xi may have suffered a heart attack:

“Although people have said he suffered a back injury, he actually had a heart attack, a myocardial infarction,” said Li Weidong, a political commentator in Beijing and the former editor of China Reform.

The magazine is influential among Chinese policymakers and under the aegis of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Other unnamed sources have also suggested that Mr Xi, 59, suffered a heart attack, while Willy Lam, the former editor of the South China Morning Post, believes China’s president-in-waiting had a stroke and is currently unable to show his face in public.

For the second day in a row, almost all of China’s other top leaders were featured on the country’s evening news bulletins, but Mr Xi was absent.

Mr Li said that Mr Xi’s illness was not severe enough to disrupt the 18th Party Congress, at which China will unveil its first set of new leaders in ten years. The date of the Congress has not been announced, but most observers believe it will occur in mid-October.

“I heard the agenda for the Congress will not be changed, which means that Mr Xi will have recovered beforehand,” he said. Other sources have also indicated that, so far, plans for the Congress have not been affected.

From Bloomberg News, a contrast between the silence regarding Xi and the way China has handled announcements in the past:

The official Xinhua News Agency took less than a day in July 2011 to deny former President Jiang Zemin had died. Earlier this year, Xinhua published accounts of China’s top security official within days of a Financial Times report that he was under investigation. By comparison, state media haven’t reported on Xi for a week, or mentioned that he canceled meetings with foreign officials on Sept. 5.

The vacuum of news on Xi, weeks before the 59-year-old is forecast to be anointed China’s next president, may be a sign of the severity of his condition, or divisions over how to present his absence. The public remains uninformed even of the date for the congress where the new generation of leaders, including Xi, is set to be announced.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that the cancellations were a “normal adjustment” and when asked today, said he had “no information” about Xi.

Chinese stocks have risen since Xi canceled his meeting with Clinton, suggesting no sign of investor unease. The Shanghai Composite Index has risen about 4 percent since Sept. 5. The cost of insuring Chinese sovereign bonds against default fell to the lowest in more than a year yesterday, according to data provider CMA.

From Tania Branigan of The Guardian:

The questions are increasingly numerous. The answer remains as elusive as their subject.

China’s foreign ministry has spent a third straight day batting away queries on the whereabouts and health of the country’s vice-president and heir apparent Xi Jinping.

Linda Jakobson, East Asia programme director at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, described the affair as “a debacle, not a crisis” for the party. “My hunch is that if this was a serious crisis we would see indications of it,” she said.

There is no sign of increased security in the Chinese capital and top leaders have continued to travel. Some have surmised that Xi must have a conspicuous injury or illness, so that releasing photographs or video of him would raise further questions.

Jakobson said that was possible. “But equally plausible would be that the people in charge of this issue are so set in their ways, and feel the state of the Chinese leaders is no one else’s business, that they feel there is no need to produce a photograph – even if it would put to rest all these questions,” she added. “From my experience, the senior officials in charge of propaganda and communications tend to be the most old-fashioned, conservative and hardline people within the bureaucracy.”

Experts said it was likely that some within the party would be pushing for an explanation of Xi’s absence from the public eye. Last year, state news agency Xinhua issued a terse statement denying that former president Jiang Zemin was dead after a Hong Kong broadcaster wrongly reported his demise.

From John Kennedy at SCMP, translations of an iSun article which claims that Xi is working hard on political reforms and is too busy to appear in public (lets go ahead and call ourselves somewhat skeptical of this one):

ISun Affairs has been able to confirm in this exclusive report, following direct and indirect contact with sources that include his family members, that Xi Jinping is and remains in perfect health, and is now busy working behind the scenes to orchestrate unprecedented political reforms set to be introduced during the upcoming 18th CCP national congress.

The explanation given for his absence throughout September at several diplomatic meetings is that Xi made the decision not to attend himself, although views on the matter remain mixed.

Between the replacement early this month of director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and the official disclosure of information regarding Xi’s meeting with Hu, it is now believed that Xi Jinping has established overall control of the CCP Central Committee, and obtained the support of Party elders, offspring of past and present Party leaders (‘hongerdai’), intellectuals, and the current military leadership. Political reforms introduced at the upcoming 18th Party congress will be implemented faster than people can anticipate, and economic reforms expanded with more force than can be imagined.

Finally, from Evan Osnos:

Another theory, the most mundane, is that he is simply buried in work in the weeks ahead of the upcoming 18th Party Congress, China’s political bar mitzvah, in which Xi will be formally designated as the supreme ruler for the next ten years. While that might make sense to outsiders, I have some doubts, because it runs counter to the rules of Party stagecraft. In Chinese politics, the participants read every detail—the seating arrangements, the toasts, the time spent with each person and where—as a clue, so it seems unlikely that Xi would allow speculation to foment unless absolutely necessary.

Most plausible, for the moment, is that Xi’s people are managing the optics. If, in fact, he is hobbling around with a slipped disc, or had a mild heart attack, they will almost certainly prevent him from being shown in public looking frail. In modern Chinese history, physical robustness has always been used as a proxy for political health; when Chairman Mao was locked in battles with internal foes in late 1965, he sequestered himself for months of plotting and then burst back on to the scene to show his vigor by swimming the Yangtze. By then in his early seventies, Mao showed that he was very much alive and, to those who chose to see it that way, challenging old Confucian principles of physical modesty and humility.

But massaging the physical whereabouts of Chinese leaders has become considerably more difficult. Last year, Premier Wen Jiabao arrived at the scene of a train crash in Wenzhou to show his sympathy to the victims and survivors and to call for a thorough investigation. When people grumbled that he had waited too long to visit, he announced he had risen from eleven days in his sick bed in order to make the trip. But that claim was swiftly challenged by Chinese Web users, who found references to Wen attending a range of official meetings in previous days. Whatever the explanation, it wasn’t ideal: either he hadn’t been at the meetings where he was said to be or he hadn’t been in bed.

It’s hard to say exactly what the answer will turn out to be, but Osnos’ take seems very sensible to me.

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“Seriously questionable”

The Economist’s Analects blog has a good roundup of all of the news surrounding the disappearance of Xi Jinping, who still hasn’t materialized after a few days of growing rumors about his whereabouts:

A clear answer as to Mr Xi’s whereabouts or condition would have put the matter quickly to rest. But no such answer was forthcoming. Asked moments earlier whether Mr Xi had been injured or whether he was “fit and well”, [Foreign Ministry Spokesman] Hong Lei replied tersely, “I have no information on that to provide to you.”

Questions do linger, and not only about Mr Xi’s health. That in itself is of course a matter of great import. He is currently China’s vice president, looks a bullish 59 years old, and has been groomed as the man who in coming months will replace Hu Jintao, the outgoing president and Communist Party chief, to lead China for the next ten years.

Beyond the immediate questions about Mr Xi’s physical and political well-being loom other disturbing questions about the widening mismatch between China’s Leninist politics and black-box opacity on the one hand, and its growing economic and political importance on the other.

Among the tales spun from these mills were reports that Mr Xi had injured his back (while swimming or playing football—take your pick). Or that he had suffered a stroke. Or a heart attack (mild or severe—again, take your pick). Or that he was injured in a politically motivated attack while in his car. Or that he has merely been sidelined politically in last-minute manoeuvring in the delicate political transition process that is now under way.

These rumours bear repeating not because any have been reported with anything like corroborating information, but because they illustrate the nature of the information vacuum that China’s system produces, and the nature of what rushes in to fill it.

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“China president-in-waiting signals quicker reform”

Reuters has a piece about how Xi Jinping is supposedly chomping at the bit to speed up the pace of reform. It all sounds good, but after the Hu-Wen administration dashed our hopes so many times I think a good bit of skepticism is going to be key here:

Xi met the prominent reformer, Hu Deping, in the past six weeks, the sources said, in a gesture intended to show he was listening to voices calling for not only faster economic liberalization but also a relaxation of political controls.

“The problems that China has accumulated are unprecedented,” one of the sources said, paraphrasing what he said was a written summary of Xi’s remarks circulated among some retired officials.

“We must seek progress and change while remaining steady,” Xi was quoted as saying.

In recent days, Chinese websites have circulated a withering assessment of Hu’s decade in power by an editor at a weekly newspaper run by the Central Party School. Xi is president of the school, and some members of his brains trust work on the campus in northwest Beijing, which trains rising officials.

“Overall, in this decade China has achieved considerable success and progress. But behind success there are also problems,” said the commentary by Deng Yuwen, a deputy editor of the Study Times newspaper.

“If we speak candidly, this decade has seeded or created massive problems, and the problems are even more numerous than the achievements,” said the commentary, which first appeared on the Caijing business magazine until it was taken down.

Deng said problems include an over-reliance on investment to power the economy, failure to nurture a secure middle class, urban-rural disparities, pollution, “ideological bankruptcy” and, above all, failure to pursue political reforms.

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“China considers downgrading domestic security tsar in next line-up”

Not like this would necessarily lead to better governance, but kicking the head of the PSB off of the Standing Committee certainly wouldn’t hurt. From Chris Buckley of Reuters:

Reducing the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the inner council at the apex of power, from nine to seven members would come as part of a once-in-a-decade leadership change expected in the next few weeks or months.

China’s domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang, faces defeat if his successor does not follow his example, and that of recent predecessors, and win a place at the top table.

Before he was tainted in a succession of scandals that hurt the Communist Party this year, Zhou expanded his role into one of the most powerful, and controversial, fiefdoms in the one-party government.

Leaders appear likely to put a tighter leash on Zhou’s successor as head of domestic security by keeping him or her off the down-sized Standing Committee. That successor would remain a member of the less powerful Politburo, which has 24 members — returning to a pattern the party kept to for much of the 1980s.

The provisional agreement to shrink the Standing Committee and to effectively downgrade the status of Zhou’s successor has been rumored for months and firmed up during secret discussions since July, said six sources with direct ties to senior leaders and retired party elders.

Zhou was implicated in rumors that he hesitated in moving against the politician Bo Xilai, who fell in a divisive scandal. Security forces also suffered a humiliating failure when they allowed blind rights advocate Chen Guangcheng to escape from 19 months of house arrest and flee to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Such fumbles gave President Hu Jintao and his virtually certain successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, a shared motive to put a growing array of police forces and domestic security services under firmer oversight, said Xie Yue, a professor of political science at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“It seems quite likely that Hu and Xi have mustered the will to demote the political standing of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee,” he said.

“They’re taking advantage of the opinion that the committee’s reach has gone too far, and that it’s created too many problems and scandals.”

The push to slim down the Standing Committee at least partly reflects hopes that the next generation of leaders will be more nimble and cohesive in tackling problems, said several observers in Beijing.

“The Hu-Wen era pattern of dividing up powers and allotting responsibilities among all these different stallholders has ended up creating many problems,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing lawyer who closely follows politics. “The next leadership wants to be able to act more swiftly.”

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“Chinese leadership reshuffle revives another high-level scandal”

WaPo on the ‘red ferrari’ scandal that just won’t go away:

Details of the crash on a Beijing street remain murky, but according to some accounts it involved the son of Ling Jihua, an ally of President Hu Jintao who was moved Saturday from his post as head of the Communist Party’s General Office of the Central Committee — the rough equivalent of the U.S. president’s chief of staff — to a less powerful job handling relationships with those outside the party.

Rumors of the link had swirled since the March 18 incident, but by Monday, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post had forced them into the purview of party officials, publishing a front-page story alleging that the crash involved a sleek Ferrari, two naked or semi-naked women and a half-clothed man the paper identified as Ling’s son.

The allegations touched on some of the flash points China’s leaders fear most, especially the image of privileged children of party officials living in extreme luxury, unbound by law or consequences. They also hit the headlines just as the party leadership may have felt it was beginning to contain the Bo Xilai saga, one of the most divisive and embarrassing episodes in China’s recent political history.

Back in March, authorities reacted quickly to the accident, preventing most Chinese media from covering it, banning microblog posts from mentioning it and blocking several search terms, including “Ferrari.”

Before his job switch this weekend, Ling had worked more closely with Hu than most other party officials, overseeing the day-to-day details of his and many other top leaders’ meetings and travel arrangements. He had even been viewed as a contender for the party’s 25-member Politburo, a position near the top of China’s political food chain.

The timing of Ling’s transfer, just ahead of the upcoming leadership change, has left experts speculating on its significance. His replacement, former Guizhou Party secretary Li Zhanshu, also has ties to Hu. But Li is also thought to have some ties with Xi Jinping, the leader earmarked to succeed Hu — a double connection that party leaders may have viewed as necessary as they navigate the transition.

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“PLA Influence Over Chinese Politics: Fact of Fiction?”

Trefor Moss at The Diplomat has a response to the piece that ran a few days ago claiming that the PLA is pushing for more power in China:

The take-home message of the Times story is therefore that PLA leaders are indebted, and also subordinate, to top Party figures like Hu – not that they’re agitating for greater political clout. The odd drunken rant aside, these men know their place.

The idea of the PLA getting out of control, or at least of asserting greater influence over foreign policy, is of course an attractive one for the lazy headline-writer. It’s news, unlike the long and deliberate arc of incremental military modernization, which is the real story of what’s happening with the PLA.

There is some fire behind all the media smoke. It’s true that PLA generals are quoted in the Chinese press with increasing regularity, and that China’s nationalistic newspapers provide a ready platform for hawks both inside and outside the military. One such purveyor of interesting views, Major General Luo Yuan, has become a minor celebrity thanks to his forthright commentary on territorial disputes: he recently spoke out in favour of “decisive action” against the Philippines, for example.

But it’s important to remember that Luo is a small fish in a big Chinese power-pond. The government, while tolerating (or perhaps encouraging) his confrontational stance, did of course completely ignore his advice. Instead, Beijing took a much more measured position, sending civilian law enforcement ships rather than the PLA Navy to handle its spat with Manila. Hence the military that is supposedly trying to grab influence over foreign policy was uninvolved in the biggest foreign-policy issue the country has faced this year – and that was probably just how most senior PLA commanders would have wanted it.

There’s no reason for the PLA to crave political power, so long as the government continues to ramp up military spending – as it has done reliably for over two decades.

I’ll be interested to see if this response generates another response in turn.

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“Party Bristles at Military’s Push for More Sway in China”

Apparently when you derive your legitimacy from the barrel of a gun, your gunmen may eventually start to wonder why they aren’t getting a bigger slice of the pie (via Edward Wong at NYT):

During a holiday banquet for China’s military leadership early this year, a powerful general lashed out in a drunken rage against what he believed was a backhanded move to keep him from being promoted to the military’s top ruling body.

The general, Zhang Qinsheng, vented his fury in front of President Hu Jintao, according to four people with knowledge of the event. At the banquet, he even shoved a commanding general making toasts; Mr. Hu walked out in disgust.

The general’s tirade was one of a series of events this year that have fueled concerns among Communist Party leaders over the level of control they exercise over military officials, who are growing more outspoken and desire greater influence over policy and politics.

“Party authorities have come to realize that the military is encroaching on political affairs,” said one political scientist with high-level party ties. “Although the party controls the gun, the expression of viewpoints from within the military on political issues has aroused a high level of alarm.” He, like others who agreed to discuss internal party affairs, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

[Conversations] with officers suggest that some may feel an affinity for the incoming Mr. Xi they do not share with Mr. Hu, a tea trader’s son who has struggled in Mr. Jiang’s shadow to win respect. Mr. Xi, 59, is the “princeling” son of a revered Communist guerrilla leader who grew up in Beijing with military families. He is stepping into the leadership role with closer military relationships than anyone since Deng Xiaoping.

“When those from the ‘red second generation’ move up, there will be a personal feeling, a traditional bond,” a senior officer said.

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“As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks”

Michael Wines has a solid look at the voices for change coming from inside the Party in the run-up to the Party Congress:

A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. The son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of the country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more.

Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February.

“Compare now to 1989; in ’89, the reformers had the upper hand,” said Mr. Zhang, a historian formerly associated with the government’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to the pro-democracy student protests that enjoyed the support of a number of important party leaders but were crushed in Tiananmen Square. “Twenty years later, the reformers have grown weaker. Now there are so many vested interests that they’ll be taken out if they touch anyone else’s interests.”

To Mr. Zhang and others, this is the conundrum of China’s rise: the autocracy that back-flipped on Marxist ideology to forge the world’s second-largest economy seems incapable of embracing political changes that actually could prolong its own survival.

Many who identify with the reform camp see change as inevitable anyway, but only, they say, because social upheaval will force it. In that view, discontent with growing inequality, corruption, pollution and other societal ills will inevitably lead to a more democratic society — or a sharp turn toward totalitarianism.

If peaceful change is to occur, Mr. Zhou and many others say, it must begin inside the Communist Party; the lesson of Tiananmen Square is that the leadership will not tolerate threats to its control. Many speak of a transformation along the lines of that in Taiwan, where authoritarian rulers peacefully gave way to direct elections in 1996, and helped spawn today’s robust democracy.

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