Unlike the U.S., where the suspense of who will enter the
White House for the coming presidential term will continue to
occupy voters minds until the very last minute,
Chinas masses knew for at least the past five years who
would run the nation from 2013-2022.
Vice President Xi Jinping, the incoming leader-in-waiting,
will be officially elected general secretary of the
Communist Party of China during the 18th Party Congress, which
is set to open on November 8. He will succeed Hu Jintao who
ruled China as general secretary and president since 2003.
Xi, 59, the son of one of the leaders of the 1949 revolution
that brought the party to power, will also be formally anointed
the president during the upcoming National Peoples
Congress in March. During the upcoming Congress, which gathers
both party and nonparty delegates. Vice Premier Li Keqiang, 57,
is expected to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier. These two were
chosen by party elders in closely veiled, behind-the-scenes
negotiations that began half a decade ago.
Xi earned a bachelors in chemical engineering and a
doctorate in Marxist theory from Beijings prestigious
Tsinghua University, Chinas equivalent to Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. Li, who holds a law degree and a
doctorate in economics from Peking University, will become the
first Chinese premier who was educated in economics. Previous
premiers tended to come from engineering backgrounds.
The Communist Party prefers stability and has
had the tradition of leaders and elders choosing successors for
decades. Current leader Hu was handpicked by former paramount
leader Deng Xiaoping, who ruled China in the 1980s and 1990s.
Deng also handpicked former president Jiang Zemin, who played a
significant role in choosing incoming leader Xi.
Xi will have his work cut out for him, says Guan
Anping, a Beijing-based securities lawyer and a former
government official. China is entering an era of slower
growth. The nation has to drastically overhaul its economic
structure, decrease its high dependence on exports and increase
domestic consumption to drive sustainable growth.
While Xi and Li are ensured the top spots,
suspense hangs over who will be the other members of the
Standing Committee the ruling council that
runs the party and the nation. More than 2,200 party delegates
will gather in Beijing for the congress to vote to decide who
else joins Xi and Li at the top.
Experts say eight officials are competing for the five
remaining slots: Vice Premier Wang Qishan, 64; party propaganda
chief Liu Yunshan, 65; party organization chief Li Yuanchao,
61; Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, 65; Tianjin party chief Zhang
Gaoli, 65; Guangdong party chief Wang Yang, 57; Shanghai party
chief Yu Zhengsheng, 67; and party united front chief Liu
Yandong, 67, the only woman among the contenders.
The composition of the five will determine the focus of
economic reforms and political development in the coming
decade, experts say.
If Vice Premier Wang, who once served as chief executive of
China Construction Bank Group, Guangdong Party Chief Wang and
party organization chief Li win top spots, China will
accelerate the pace of both economic reforms and possibly even
begin some form of political reforms, says experts. Both
incoming president Xi and incoming premier Li are reform
oriented, says an adviser to Li who asked not to be
identified by name. Both realize that China must overhaul
its high reliance on state-driven investments and move towards
private sector development. But how fast they move will depend
on who joins them on the Standing Committee.
As vice premier, Wang Qishan served as Chinas economic
czar, advocating for finance sector liberalizations, while Wang
Yang accelerated economic growth in Guangdong, and party
organization chief Li has continually advocated experimental
political reforms within the party.
But even so-called conservatives such as Zhang Dejiang, who
was educated in North Koreas Kim Il-sung University, cut
his teeth a decade ago as the party chief of Guangdong, pushing
for closer economic ties between Chinas largest center of
manufacturing and private enterprise with Hong Kong just south
of the border.
Economic and financial reforms will be the primary
focus of the incoming leadership regardless who joins the
Standing Committee, says lawyer Guan, adding that the
only thing in question is the pace of reforms.
As the west wobbles, all eyes have now turned east to
see what Chinas leaders will do to stimulate the
economy, says a recent report by Hong Kongbased
China economist Qu Hongbin of Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking
Corp. While theres little doubt that policymakers
will gear up both monetary and fiscal easing, likely leading to
a modest recovery in the coming quarters, focusing on
short-term stimulus misses a far more important trend a
swathe of coordinated reforms, which we believe will
revolutionize the countrys financial system. In fact,
there are clear signs that Chinas new leaders, who will
take power in early 2013, will make speeding up reform top of
their policy agenda in the coming years.
On top of the financial reform agenda are Renminbi
convertibility, banking reforms that allow banks to set their
own competitive interest rates and increase lending to the
private sector, and allowing local governments to issue their
own bonds, which currently are under the mandate of the central
The run-up to the party congress hasnt been completely
devoid of fireworks, however. Former Chongqing party chief Bo
Xilai was purged in the past few months for corruption and for
allegedly trying to cover up crimes by him and his family. He
is awaiting trial. His wife Bo Gu Kailai was sentenced to death
with a two-year reprieve for murdering a British
China experts believe the real reason for Bos
expulsion from the Party is because he openly challenged the
succession plan and lost a power struggle with President Hu and
party elders, including former president Jiang.
The Bo Xilai affair illustrates that real political
reforms wont come to China any time soon, says an
investment banker whose father was a general in the
Peoples Liberation Army. The party likes to keep
decisions cloaked in secrecy and in the hands of party elders.
As long as the Communist Party is in charge, dont expect
that to change.