Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday wrapped up his shake-up of the State Council and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the National People’s Congress approved a slate of new appointments that will allow Xi to place his stamp more firmly on the party and the nation by putting people loyal to him in key posts.
Interestingly, his picks for two key posts were US-trained economists, Yi Gang (易綱), promoted to People’s Bank of China governor, and Liu He (劉鶴), who is now one of four vice premiers.
Yi earned his doctorate from the University of Illinois and was an associate professor at Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus before returning to China to teach at his alma mater, Peking University, while Xi earned his doctorate at Harvard University and is known as a supporter of free markets.
While Yi has more than just academic experience — he served as deputy bank governor for years — Xi is considered a novice when it comes to the kind of bureaucratic infighting that he will have endure to get Xi’s — and his — policies implemented.
However, the capitalist-influenced education that the two men received should not be expected to influence them to move to loosen the CCP’s reins on the Chinese economy, or voice opinions that differ from that of their protector and mentor, Xi.
Meanwhile, former minister of supervision Yang Xiaodu (楊曉渡), who last fall was one the officials who championed more party influence over foreign-run companies, is to head the National Supervisory Commission, Xi’s new anti-corruption “super agency,” which has been placed higher than the Chinese Supreme Court and the top prosecutors’ office in the hierarchy of power.
That is not good news for smaller party fry that have escaped Xi’s housecleaning up to this point, but it is also not a good sign for the nation’s legal system or Xi’s vow to see China governed by the rule of law.
Close Xi ally Wang Qishan (王岐山) on Saturday was named vice president in a move widely seen as part of an effort to limit the influence of Premier Li Keqian (李克強), who was re-elected on Sunday to a second five-year term, and reduce his ability to challenge Xi, while Xi’s former chief of staff Li Zhanshu (栗戰書) is the new chairman of the National People’s Congress.
While Mao Zedong (毛澤東) has long been known to have said that women “hold up half the sky” and female comrades could do whatever their male counterparts did, Xi followed the lead of Mao and most of his successors by keeping the number of women in key posts to the bare minimum.
Sun Chunlan (孫春蘭), a former the United Front Work Department head, now joins Liu on the vice premier line-up, making her the only woman in a top government position.
Xi is China’s “new helmsman.” However, any predictions about what this might mean for China or the rest of the world should be taken with a very large grain of salt, given the deluge of analysis pieces and pundit predictions in 2012 that he would prove to be a great reformer who would lead China toward liberalization and perhaps even democratization.
Xi has laid out his ambitions in recent years, and while he has succeeded in having his “thoughts” enshrined in the both the CCP’s and the Chinese constitutions, he may fare less well in his international ambitions, as the nascent push-back against his Belt and Road Initiative has shown.
He should also remember that while he has great influence over the minds of the Chinese, he cannot control what people in other nations do or think.
Complaints about “meddling in China’s domestic affairs” can go both ways. Beijing cannot complain that other nations are interfering with its internal affairs — its standard response when it comes to Taiwan — when its complaints about the US’ new Taiwan Travel Act should be viewed as meddling in the US’ internal affairs.
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