The sixth generation of Chinese leadership is taking over in a process that has thrown up no surprises and has left little to chance
Wednesday’s closing session of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) once-in-five-years National Congress was, like much of the week-long gathering, a tightly choreographed affair. As the carefully selected 2,268 delegates gathered in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for one last time, it was apparent that the Party was leaving little to chance while handing over the reins of the world’s second-largest economy to the fifth generation of its leadership.
Outgoing General Secretary Hu Jintao will continue as President till March, when Parliament will convene for its annual session. This will give his anointed successor, Vice-President Xi Jinping, some time to come to grips with heading the 81-million-strong Party before taking over matters of government. On Thursday, Mr. Hu is also expected to announce whether he will relinquish his third post — head of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Central Military Commission. His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, held on to the post for two more years.
While, in theory, the 2,268 delegates as “people’s representatives” can contest and question any decision taken by the Central Committee, every resolution that was put forward on Wednesday was passed unanimously, without a single dissenting vote. From approving the work report of the outgoing 17th Central Committee to selecting a new Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) — the Party’s powerful internal disciplinary body — every single delegate raised her or his hand to endorse every decision. When Mr. Hu asked the gathering after every resolution if there were any dissenters, shouts of “no!” echoed loudly — and repeatedly — around the Great Hall.
The selection process of the new Central Committee also threw up no surprises: the 10 current Politburo members seen as contenders for spots on the next Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) — which will be unveiled on Thursday morning — were all selected among its 205 full members. Besides Mr. Xi and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang — who is expected to succeed Wen Jiabao to the less powerful post of Premier — eight Politburo members vying for a spot on the top body were chosen. They included four officials who rose through the Communist Youth League, where Mr. Hu has allies: head of the Organisation Department Li Yuanchao, top propaganda official Liu Yunshan, Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang and State Councillor Liu Yandong, the only female member of the current Politburo. Three officials close to former President Jiang Zemin were also selected — Zhang Gaoli, Zhang Dejiang and Yu Zhengsheng, respectively the Party chiefs in the municipalities of Tianjin, Chongqing and Shanghai.
One post on the next PBSC was all but confirmed when Politburo member Wang Qishan, a Vice-Premier in charge of economic affairs and a vastly experienced banker who has championed economic reforms, was named among the members of the CCDI, the internal disciplinary body. Mr. Wang is another official seen as close to Mr. Jiang and, like Mr. Xi, Mr. Zhang Dejiang and Mr. Yu, is a “princeling” — as relatives of former leaders are known in China. The official in charge of the powerful anti-corruption body usually occupies a spot on the Standing Committee.
As Mr. Hu announced the end of the Congress — and his ten-year term at the helm of the party — he hinted at the enormous challenges his successors will face, including rising corruption, social inequality, transforming China’s economic model and environmental challenges, issues that were reflected in amendments to the Party Constitution. He called on Party members to “keep firmly in mind our sacred duties” and “strive to be role models”. As he bade farewell, the Party’s delegates stood in attention and the PLA marching band played the “Internationale”, the Communist anthem. Led by Mr. Hu, the fourth generation of China’s Communist leaders, all dressed in identical black suits, shuffled out of the Great Hall for one last time, before being whisked away by a waiting fleet of black Audi cars to their reclusive leadership compound down the road.