Category Archives: Xi Jinping

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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“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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“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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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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