Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Tribalized CCP to focus on factional rivalry

By Willy Wo-lap Lam

Nothing illustrates the dichotomy between hopes and reality in China better than the hype around the upcoming 17th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress.

The CCP calls a "congress" every five years to pick a new Central Committee, choose the nine members who comprise the Standing Committee of the Politburo, China's supreme ruling council, and thrash out new initiatives and policies.

Because it is almost certain that CCP General Secretary, Chinese President and commander-in-chief Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) will receive second five-year terms, all eyes are on whether Hu will succeed in elevating one or more of his younger allies to the Standing Committee. The backroom struggle is intense, but it now looks like Liaoning Province Party Secretary Li Keqiang (李克強) and Shanghai Party Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) will be promoted.

Li, 52, deemed a "Hu clone," has long been groomed by Hu for the top leadership. Both men are former first secretaries of the Communist Youth League, one of Hu's major power bases.

But the sudden emergence of the 54-year-old Xi, a former Zhejiang Province party boss who became Shanghai's top cadre seven months ago, says much about the CCP's delicate factional balance and the behind-the-scenes jockeying.

Despite his apparent grip on most levers of power, Hu lacks the authority of a Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) and thus must strike a balance among the CCP's major factions regarding the division of spoils at the top. Xi enjoys the backing of incumbent Standing Committee members associated with the Shanghai faction once led by former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), as well as the majority of party elders.

The likelihood that factional dynamics will wreak havoc on policymaking has, however, diminished owing to significant change in the nature of CCP factions over the past decade. Beginning with the Jiang era, most factions no longer divide along ideological lines. Such power blocs are now more concerned with obtaining more senior posts and political resources for their supporters and more economic benefits for the regions they represent and the businesses run by factional affiliates.

Thus, Hu's Communist Youth League faction is preoccupied with advancing the careers of professional party functionaries who are specialists in areas including ideology, organization and propaganda.

The Shanghai faction, now led by incumbent Standing Committee member and Vice President Zeng Qinghong (曾慶紅), is more interested in preserving the Greater Shanghai Region's status as the "dragonhead" of China's economy.

The majority of Chinese are more interested in bread-and-butter issues, particularly whether Hu and Wen can fulfil their promise of narrowing the yawning gap between rich and poor, city and countryside, and coast and hinterland. Despite their vaunted credo of "scientific development," the Hu-Wen leadership has failed to do much to help peasants and migrant workers, who have been hit hard by staggeringly high property prices, unaffordable health care and rising education costs.

Wen's cabinet, moreover, has failed to tame inflation, particularly for foodstuffs. The official consumer price index rose by 6.5 percent in August, but some Western economists put inflation at closer to 10 percent. This has prompted many urban residents to go on a buying spree, pushing prices higher.

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