The ruling Communist Party of China’s (CPC) new leadership, balancing the interests of different groups, may impose some constraints on President Xi Jinping in his second five-year tenure though he remained powerful, according to observers. The seven-member Standing Committee of the CPC, which virtually rules China, was unveiled yesterday in which Premier Li Keqiang along with other candidates backed by different powerful factions within the party have been accommodated restoring a semblance of balance, they said. Besides Xi, 64, and Li, 62, the other members of the ruling council are Xi’s chief of staff Li Zhanshu, 67; Vice Premier Wang Yang, 62; leading Communist Party theoretician Wang Huning, 62; party organisation department head Zhao Leji, 60; and Shanghai party chief Han Zheng, 63. While Xi, who heads the party, presidency and the military, remain more dominant figure, the composition of the Standing Committee was regarded as little more balanced with members from other factions of the party. Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that although Xi’s authority within the party was well recognised, the new Standing Committee line-up suggested he might still face some constraints.
“The line-up largely obeys the unwritten conventions (that have been in place since) Deng Xiaoping,” he said. “That includes the ‘seven up, eight down’ rule and promotion based on seniority, though he did break the conventions on successors,” Chen told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. The CPC leaders follow unwritten convention since 2002 that anyone aged 68 or older retires and no one older than 67 joins. Based on this convection, Xi’s close aide Wang Qishan, 69, who headed the anti-corruption drive in the last five year in which over a million officials were punished was not re- elected, despite Xi’s preference for his continuation.
While Wang’s departure showed there was still some regard for convention, Xi’s failure to endorse a successor – as all of his predecessors for the past 25 years had done by the end of their first terms – was a significant break from tradition, the Post reported. The rationale for the nominated successor arrangement is to give the future leader time to prepare for the role. As was the case with former President Hu Jintao and Xi himself, the process involves the candidate simultaneously holding a seat on the Standing Committee, being given the ceremonial title of vice-president to allow him to make foreign visits, it said. The departure from the succession convention has raised questions about Xi’s own retirement plans, the report said.
As per the convention, Xi is due to retire after his current term. But his elevation to the status of party founder Mao Zedong by the just concluded party Congress, including his ideological thoughts as part of the CPC Constitution and declaring him as a “core leader” earlier, may allow him to continue as they put him above the other party leaders and existing conventions. “All previous ‘cores’ in the history of China’s Communist Party led for more than two five-year terms. Supreme leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping ceded power only on their deaths, while Jiang Zemin, after stepping down as president, continued as a military leader,” the Post said. “If nobody is appointed, the first explanation is not that Xi is trying to stay on, but rather that there is no one that is seen as a suitable replacement,” said Trey McArver, co-founder of Beijing-based research firm Trivium China.
“The perception going into Xi’s tenure was that there needed to be a unified leadership, and appointing a successor five years in advance almost by definition serves to start creating different power centres at the very top,” he told the Post. In another move to concentrate the President’s power, the party has cut the number of seats – under Xi and his two vice-chairmen – on the powerful Central Military Commission from eight to four. CMC is the overall high command of the Chinese military. Also the new line-up of the Politburo sent a strong message about China’s assertive foreign policy plans for the next five years, with the promotion to the body of Yang Jiechi, the country’s top diplomat who is also the Special Representative of the India-China boundary talks.
He is the first professional diplomat to hold such a position in China for 15 years, and is now a front runner to become a vice-premier. “China is keen to cement and expand its role as a major global power. Yang has extensive hands-on diplomatic experience with the US, Japan and India, and if he maintains that approach it will augur well for smooth relations between China and other major powers,” Dibyesh Anand, an associate professor at London’s Westminster University, told the daily. “However, Xi’s personality ensures it is he who will be paramount when it comes to not only domestic politics but international relations, so Yang’s role will be to facilitate Xi’s vision of China as a great power diplomatically,” he said.