Faces Change at Top of Chinese Regime in 2012

By Michael Young

In 2012, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will have a new leader, as the Party heads will once again calculate that they have no choice but to cooperate, even as they fight among themselves for power behind the scenes.
When Hu Jintao became the CCP general secretary in 2002, succeeding Jiang Zemin, Western media noted that a peaceful transfer of power had taken place and took this as a sign that the Chinese regime had made progress politically.

Appearances can be misleading. In 2002, Hu took on new roles, but not all of the power transferred to Hu along with his new titles.

Deng’s Example

After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping and seven other communist veterans, who together were known as the “Eight Immortals” or the “Eight Elders,” were at the center of power in China, with Deng as the paramount leader.

This small group of people decided to crush the students’ demand for transparency and democracy in China in June 1989 with tanks and machine guns. They also decided to remove Zhao Ziyang, then the CCP general secretary, who was considered sympathetic to the pro-democracy students. Even though Zhao held the highest position in the Party, he was still ruled by the favor or disfavor of this small group behind the scenes.

One of the major offenses Zhao made in Deng’s eyes was to reveal to the visiting president of the former Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, that Deng had the final say on every major decision in China’s politics. Deng at that time had resigned from all the positions he had held in the CCP.

Deng established an example that has so far become a kind of tradition: The retired top leaders of the CCP have enough power to pick the next generation of leadership and control it until the retired leaders’ demise.

Deng also started a tradition of picking the successor of his successor in order to assure his family would be protected long after he was gone. He picked Jiang Zemin to succeed the ousted Zhao Ziyang, and also picked Hu Jintao to succeed Jiang Zemin.

    The hope for real change within the Communist Party has now basically vanished.

Jiang, following Deng’s example, picked Xi Jinping to succeed Hu Jintao and continued to have a say on any important issues in the CCP. A difference between him and Deng was that Jiang wanted to show to the public at every opportunity that he continued to wield power. He attended as many national public events as he could and had his name listed next to Hu’s in the media.
Power Groups

In the Chinese regime, there is no such thing as an opposition party or an opposition group within the Communist Party. However, just as everywhere else, people build up their own networks based on their backgrounds and life circumstances.

Since Mao’s death, there have been three main groups of people that have somehow shared power

The first group is the “princelings.” They are the children of the veteran Communist Party leaders. For example, Xi Jinping, expecting to succeed Hu Jintao next year, and Bo Xilai, campaigning to be one of the members of Standing Committee of the Politiburo, are both princelings. The parents of both of them were senior leaders in Mao’s era and became more powerful as close allies of Deng Xiaoping.

These two represent the most entitled, privileged, and powerful group in today’s China, politically and economically, and most importantly, militarily.

The princelings have taken the opportunity of China’s economic reforms, which had no restraints in the form of institutional checks or the balance of powers familiar in the U.S. Constitution, to enrich themselves and their family and friends. They believe they are the natural inheritors of political power, and more so now with the increasing need to protect their financial interests as well.

The second group is known as the “tuan pai.” These were leaders in the Communist Youth League, an organization that ensures the younger generations of Chinese will continue adhering to communist doctrine and to the CCP’s hold on power.

Some of them are naturally from the princelings, but the majority of them are from the families of everyday people. This group of people tends to be politically sensitive and loyal to the Communist Party, with individuals who have charismatic personalities and enthusiasm.

Hu Jintao is from this group, and many members of the group have been promoted to important posts in the Communist Party in the last few years, including the premier-to-be, Li Keqiang. This group tends to be perceived by the general public as less corrupt and also less pragmatic.

The third group is the technocrats. They normally have training in technology, science, or economics. They climb the ladder to high positions by being politically loyal to the communists as well as having strong managerial skills. The typical examples are the former premier Zhu Rongji and the current premier Wen Jiabao.

    Invoking ‘anti-corruption’ provides a perfect tool for getting rid of political opponents

They tend to be pragmatic and to handle the day-to-day operations of the huge governing machine. They are frequently troubled by decisions made based on political reasons or power struggles that are detrimental to the economy and the stability of society. But they have little influence on the Party’s political process.
Sharing Power

These groups will not struggle for power in public. All of them have realized that they need each other to stay in power forever and protect their family interests. In their own words, they are in the same boat and have to help each other. They have shared interests and therefore have to share power as well.

The recognition of their mutual dependence does not mean that they do not wrestle with each other quietly for individual benefits. Since corruption is everywhere and at every level, everyone has some skeleton in the closet. Getting rid of political opponents and their allies under the name of anti-corruption is a perfect tool for fighting against each other if the power balance is threatened.

When Jiang became the new Party chief, Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong was not happy and cooperative. Jiang managed to have Chen’s right hand, Deputy Mayor Wang Baosen, commit “suicide” and later put Chen in jail for crime of corruption.

Hu jailed the Party chief of Shanghai in order to keep Jiang’s “Shanghai Gang” under control. The game ends when all parties agree to follow the rule of not threatening each other.

Next year Hu has to step down from the highest positions as the president of China and the general secretary of the Communist Party. He is hoping to do the same as Jiang did. First, he wants to keep power as the chairman of the Central Military Committee for two more years, and second, to pick the successor of his successor.

Apparently he received resistance from Jiang and his allies, who are holding onto the power Jiang had. Thus, we saw Lai Changxing suddenly sent back to China right in the middle of the negotiations. Lai had fled to Canada. He is an economic criminal who was involved in massive acts of official corruption and was connected with Jiang’s allies.

Around the same time as Lai’s return, a report on Jiang’s death was announced on a Hong Kong TV network. Whatever the truth is about Jiang’s health, the news of his death was later deemed by the authorities to be a rumor.

Hu apparently has never gained as much power as Jiang did while he was in office. Jiang had the advantage that Deng died while Jiang was still in power. Jiang is deemed to still be alive, and Hu has to step down—or “retire to the second line” as the CCP leaders say.

Neither Hu nor Jiang has the ultimate power in arranging the next generation of leaders. The candidates themselves for the first time have to work hard to gain power. For example, Bo Xilai, now the Party chief in Chongqing and also one of the 24 members of the Politiburo, has been carrying out a Mao-style campaign in Chongqing to bring back Mao’s legacy in order to show he represents the true spirit of the Communist Party.

Wang Yang, Hu’s favorite, is now the Party chief in Guangdong Province, one of the most economically advanced provinces in China. He wants to show he is a true reformer intent on keeping the Party and the country moving forward, not backward. He recently even allowed an organized street demonstration in his province at which anti-corruption slogans were shouted.

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All in all, we should not expect anything other than the results of compromise and balance among these powerful interest groups. What will happen with power distribution is almost irrelevant to everyday Chinese people. The once-held hope for real change within the Communist Party has now basically vanished.

NOTE - Michael Young is a Chinese-American writer based in Washington, D.C., writes on China and the Sino-U.S. relationship.

Stay tuned to TIBET TELEGRAPH for more news and views on Tibet and Tibetan life, and on areas of interest to the Tibetan readers


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