Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - Page 8 News List

China’s new carbon copy leaders

By Hsu Szu-chien 徐斯儉

It has all been rather shambolic. The whole affair gives the impression there is a lot of factional power games and jostling going on in the background.

So what does all this reveal?

The handover of power to Xi was hardly plain sailing, and if this does not speak of a serious internal rift among the party leadership then it at least shows that there is disagreement there. More importantly, for something as crucial as the handover of power at the very top of the party to have been beset in this way, with so many things going wrong and the authorities walking around on tenterhooks, it suggests that the legitimacy of political power in China is being called into question and subjected to serious scrutiny.

Both China’s domestic media and the international press are calling for this turbulent state of affairs to be addressed and for the CCP to instigate political reform.

This idea is also being raised by the party media itself.

So, now that the 18th Party Congress is over, can the party be expected to proceed with the political reform that people want?

Will there be some form of retribution for the Tiananmen Square Massacre? Will suffrage be extended to the public at grassroots elections? Will restrictions be relaxed on emerging social groups? Indeed, will the CCP actually move ahead with so-called party internal democracy?

It is difficult to be optimistic.

Xi and the entire new intake of the Politburo Standing Committee all came up through the same system, supported by this or that faction, making all kinds of compromises on the way up. There has been no institutionalized mechanism for promoting people to positions of authority.

For proper reform to take place, it has to be reform of the various interest groups that already exist within the ruling class. Will Xi be able to touch the special monopolistic status enjoyed by the princelings?

These top leaders derive their authority from the current balance of power: Why on earth would they seek to rock the boat?

The series of struggles recently witnessed have been about them wresting further power for themselves: Nobody is going to enact any reforms that would be detrimental to their own power. Because of the way in which power is shared among CCP members, it is very unlikely that the impetus for reform will come from within the system, and any force from outside of the system is certain to be viewed by the authorities as a challenge and as a destabilizing force. If these forces are not mercilessly suppressed, the fear is that they will just be absorbed or coopted.

There are turbulent times ahead in China now that the 18th Party Congress is over.

Hsu Szu-chien is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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