The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) unveiled a new leadership lineup this week, and the overall impression is that nothing changed. Or will change. It looks like it will be business as usual for the foreseeable future.
Like the Republican Party in the US, the CCP clings to principles and a mindset more reminiscent of a bygone era, despite the massive changes in China and around the world that have occurred in the past two decades. However, unlike the Republicans, the CCP does not have to worry about being rejected by voters.
There has been lots of talk in the past few months that the CCP’s 18th Party Congress would bring opportunities for more progressive minds to step to the forefront. It brought back memories of the naivete of those who insisted in the weeks and days before the Tiananmen Square Massacre that the students’ call for reforms would have to be heeded. The hopeful were wrong in 1989 and they were wrong again this year. Instead, the party congress brought in an older and equally conservative crop of politicians.
The new CCP secretary-general is Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), a party princeling who has benefited from his family, party and military connections as he ascended the ranks. While many say he is still a cipher, he is certainly not the bold visionary China needs to resolve its many pressing social and economic problems. Even if he did have some reformist tendencies, he is surrounded by entrenched conservatives in the party and those who stand to lose if major reforms are enacted: the state-run corporations, the military and the state security apparatus.
It is worth noting that one of the key playmakers in the reshuffle of the party’s politburo and the more powerful Politburo Standing Committee was not the man Xi replaced at the helm of the party, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), but Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin (江澤民). He has technically been out of power for 10 years and yet it was his viewpoint that seems to have predominated.
There was one semi-historic change — there are now two women in the politburo as Fujian CCP Secretary Sun Chunlan (孫春蘭) joined State Councilor Liu Yandong (劉延東). Mao Zedong (毛澤東) may have said that “women hold up half the sky,” but women have been left holding very little in the way of real authority or power in the party since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Obviously not much is going to change on this front anytime soon.
Of course, on this side of the Taiwan Strait, the main question has been what the leadership changes in Beijing will mean for cross-strait ties and China’s locked-in-cement determination to “recover Taiwan.” The answer is probably not much for the next two years as Xi shores up his power base and deals with pressing domestic economic and social problems.
There will probably be more “peaceful development” of relations, at least ahead of Taiwan’s seven-in-one elections in two years followed by the 2016 presidential election.
Then again, Taiwanese have more to be concerned about with their own leadership being willing to toady so readily to Beijing and so unwilling to defend the nation’s sovereignty.
Just look at the message that Xinhua news agency said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) sent to Xi in his role of chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), with its talk that “the great cause of rejuvenating the Chinese nation is in the ascendant.”
It sounded like something straight out of a CCP propaganda handbook. Xinhua said Xi responded by saying he hoped the CCP and the KMT would seize a historic opportunity to improve ties.
The CCP and the KMT can talk all they want about improving ties, but both Ma and Xi should remember that at least on this side of the Strait, the electorate has a say and they have said very clearly that they favor the “status quo,” not ties that bind.