No surprises as China’s transition draws to a close

NEW ERA?:The Chinese ruling party’s congress to decide the nation’s new set of leaders is to end today, with the world watching to look for signs of major policy changes

Reuters, BEIJING

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - Page 1

One of China’s most senior financial officials is likely to lead the fight against corruption, a top priority in the world’s second-biggest economy, following his appointment to a key council at the end of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress yesterday.

Known as “the chief firefighter,” Wang Qishan (王岐山), 64, is currently the vice premier in charge of economic affairs under Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶).

Wang, an experienced trade negotiator and former banker, sorted out a debt crisis in southern Guangdong Province where he was vice governor in the late 1990s. Later, he replaced the sacked Beijing mayor after a cover-up of the deadly SARS virus in 2003.

Wang is now a shoo-in for the elite Politburo Standing Committee, the highest level of decisionmaking in China, after being elected to the party’s Central Committee and its graft-battling Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

The move comes on the eve of the unveiling of China’s new top leadership team that will guide the world’s most populous nation in the coming five years as it deals with rising social unrest and global and domestic economic uncertainty.

A former head of China Construction Bank, Wang is an experienced negotiator who has led finance and trade negotiations as well as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the US, and is a favorite of foreign investors.

While his new role will take him away from a financial portfolio, Wang can focus his efforts on battling graft, which outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) said last week threatened the party’s rule and the state.

Yesterday, the 2,270 carefully vetted party delegates cast their votes in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People for the new central committee of 205 full members and 171 alternate members with no voting rights.

The committee will in turn, today, appoint a Politburo of about two dozen members and a Politburo Standing Committee, the innermost ring of power with possibly seven members, reduced from the current nine.

Other people elected to the central committee were Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), the anointed successors of Hu and Wen respectively, though their ascent was never in doubt.

However, People’s Central Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川) was not elected, indicating he will step down.

“The congress elected a new central committee of the party and replaced older leaders with younger ones,” Hu told the closing ceremony of the congress, a mix of model workers, CEOs, soldiers and ethnic minorities in traditional clothing.

The election was carefully scripted. Leadership changes have been thrashed out in advance through horse-trading between party elders and retiring leaders anxious to preserve political power and protect family interests.

Xi had long been expected to take over from Hu, first as party chief at this congress and then as president when parliament meets for its annual session in March, completing the party’s second orderly succession since it took power in 1949.

One lingering question that will also be answered today is whether Hu will hang on to his role as chairman of the Central Military Commission, the supreme decisionmaking body for China’s nuclear-armed 2.3 million-strong military.

The final makeup of the standing committee will not be known for sure until the new leaders emerge at a brief ceremony in the Great Hall today.

Although the central committee chooses the Politburo and the standing committee, possibly with more candidates than seats for the first time, the outcomes have already been decided at this point by the party’s power brokers, sources with ties to the leadership have told reporters.