Status quo in China

Post-Deng Xiaoping, the communist China hasn’t had a designated ‘paramount leader,’ who exercised real power and authority without holding the top position in the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and the government it runs. But the outcome of the just-concluded 18th CPC has established the existence of unofficial party bosses, who continue to wield enormous influence even after they officially retire. Even ten years after he retired from the top party and government positions, Jiang Zemin continues to call the shots. He has dwarfed outgoing CPC general secretary and president of the country Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao, who ruled the country for ten years following the retirement of Jiang in 2002 as required under the party constitution. It now transpires that the Hu-Wen combination had to largely work under the backroom boss Jiang’s shadows, and hence, might not have enjoyed enough freedom for bold innovations.

We may never know whether Hu would have ruled the country differently, if his decade-long leadership had enjoyed freedom from the retired veteran’s backroom manoeuvrings. Certainly, however, this may not be a good omen for the so-called fifth generation CPC leadership, which was unveiled to the world and the Chinese people on Thursday. Li Jinping, the new party general secretary and the president-designate, and Li Keqiang, the premier-designate, owe their elevation to a conservative communist clique controlled by Jiang. Unlike his predecessors, Hu probably did not even have the luxury of anointing his successors. To this extent, there will be not much by way of a Hu legacy. Indeed, Hu’s exit will be quick – he has also retired from the party position as the chairman of central military commission – considered to be a source of authority.

The change of guard in China, therefore, is not expected to bring about any change in policies in economic and political spheres, notwithstanding the renewed emphasis on strengthening intra-party democracy or fighting the menace of corruption. Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, the two strong, relatively liberal and reform-minded contenders for the all important CPC panel, the standing committee of the politburo, were left out. To ensure that they did not find a place on the panel that forms the collective leadership, the conservatives led by Jiang trimmed the panel’s strength from nine to seven. Hence, the leadership change in China does not point to the possibility of any dramatic change, be on the economic or the political front.    

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