Old leadership meets Chinas cry for reforms

Written by Reuters | Beijing | Updated: Nov 16 2012, 09:38am hrs
Chinas ruling Communist Party unveiled an older, conservative leadership line-up on Thursday that appears unlikely to take the drastic action needed to tackle pressing issues like social unrest, environmental degradation, corruption and public demands for reforms.

New party chief Xi Jinping, premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang and vice-premier in charge of economic affairs Wang Qishan, all named as expected to the elite decision-making Politburo Standing Committee, are considered cautious reformers. The other four members have the reputation of being conservative.

The line-up belied any hopes that Xi would usher in a leadership that would take bold steps to deal with slowing growth in the worlds second-biggest economy, or begin to ease the Partys iron grip on the most populous nation.

Were not going to see any political reform because too many people in the system see it as a slippery slope to extinction, said David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington Universitys Elliott School of International Affairs. They see it entirely through the prism of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions in Central Asia, so theyre not going to go there.

Vice-Premier Wang, the most reform-minded in the line-up, has been given the role of fighting widespread graft, identified by Xi and outgoing President Hu Jintao as the biggest danger faced by the party and the state.

One source said an informal poll was held by over 200 voting members in the partys central committee to choose the seven members of the standing committee from among 10 candidates. Two of them who had strong reform credentials Guangdong party boss Wang Yang and party organisation head Li Yuanchao failed to make it, along with the lone woman candidate Liu Yandong.

The source, who has ties to the leadership, said that Wang and Li Yuanchao, both allies of Hu, did not make it to the standing committee because party elders felt they were too liberal.

However, all three are in the 25-member Politburo, a group that ranks below the standing committee. It was earlier believed the voting was confined to the Politburo. The leadership is divided, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a Chinese politics expert at Hong Kong Baptist University, adding that the new leadership would find it easier to make progress on economic reform rather than political change. Its easier for them to move to a new growth model. I think they agree upon that and that wont be the hardest task. But I see a lot of political paralysis.

This is an older line-up, with the average age of the standing committee at 63.4 years compared with 62.1 five years ago. Except for Xi and his deputy Li Keqiang, all the others in the standing committee the innermost circle of power in the Chinese government are 64 or above and will have to retire within five years, when the next party congress is held. That means the party may just tread water on the most vital reforms until then, although after that, Xi would probably have more independence in choosing his team.