The New Leadership in China: What Can We Expect from Hu Jintao?
Four China specialists weigh the outcome of the 16th Communist Party Congress in Beijing.
Is Communist China more committed to free trade than George Bush? Did party general secretary Jiang Zemin really give up power at the 16th congress of the Chinese Communist Party that closed in Beijing November 14? Or did he pack the new Politburo Standing Committee to hamstring his nominal successor Hu Jintao with a cadre of Jiang loyalists? These were some of the questions tackled by a panel of four prominent China specialists at UCLA November 26, meeting to assess the 16th Party Congress outcome. The panel, sponsored by the Center for Chinese Studies, consisted of Richard Baum (Political Science, UCLA, and director of the Center for Chinese Studies); Daniel Lynch (International Relations, USC); William Overholt (Asia Policy Chair, RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy); and James Tong (Political Science, UCLA).
Richard Baum, participant and chair, posed some of these questions in his opening remarks:
"The fabled changing of the guard at the 16th party congress seemed to mark an almost complete change. Eight of nine top-ranked leaders were turned over; it is possible to talk about an entire generation. What is the future role of Jiang Zemin? He resigned as general secretary, but still holds the job of president, which he will relinquish next spring. Having served two terms he is ineligible to serve again. It is expected the Hu Jintao will replace him in that post as well. Jiang still holds the head of the Military Affairs Commission, an extremely important position. There is no indication that Jiang Zemin will resign that job. There is also the question of informal power in the Chinese system. You could not always tell in the past from looking at the organizational chart who made the decisions. In the 1980s after Deng Xiaoping and others resigned from official positions they still were a very powerful group, the 8 immortals they were called. This old group of elder statesmen remained the most powerful group in China. It was the elder statesmen who called in the troops at Tiananmen in 1989, not the elected leadership.
"One of the questions raised by this transition is whether we will recapitulate this pattern of an informal group of elders that will continue to wield real power."
Below are edited texts of the remarks of each of the panelists.
James Tong (UCLA): The standard characters of a Leninist state are missing from this leadership, but so are the western trained economists and political scientists common to other Asian societies.
The 16th Party Congress presented us with a new leadership of 9 men: Hu Jintao, 59, general secretary, and 8 others on the Politburo Standing Committee: Wu Bangguo, 61, vice-premier of the State Council; Wen Jiabao, 60, secretary of the Financial Work Committee of the CPC Central Committee; Jia Qinglin, 62, secretary of the Beijing Municipal Committee; Zeng Qinghong, 63, head of the Organization Department (personnel); Huang Ju, 64, secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee; Wu Guanzheng, 64, a provincial governor and secretary of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection; Li Changchun, 58, secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee; and Luo Gan, 67, director of the Secrets Committee of the CPC Central Committee.
Five percent of the Chinese population are party members; of these, 198 are Central Committee members. These elected 24 Politburo members, and the 24 picked the 9. The nine thus selected follow the 60-40-20-10 rule. That is, they average 60 years old, 40 years in the party, 20 years in the Central Committee, and 10 years in the Politburo.
All are college graduates. This is the first time this has been true in the Central Committee. They are all engineers. But we note a complete absence of:
1. Theoreticians, party ideologues. There is no Lenin Trotsky, or Mao. Not a single ideologue.
2. There is no one from the security apparatus, no Putin, Wang Dongxing, no security people.
3. Not a single professional soldier, no military. No Ye Jianying, etc., as in the past.
4. Only one princeling, a son or offspring of a prominent party leader: Zeng Qinghong, the son of Zeng Shan.
5. No model worker, no stakhanovite.
Animal farm was recently staged in Beijing: The characters were Snowball, the ideologist; a security type, a model worker, the typical cast of characters of a Leninist state. For the first time there are none of those. All are technocrats. China has moved away from a Leninist state, but not quite the same as the political elite of the four dragons.
In the Politburo you do not have economists or financial specialists (Lee Denghui, Thailand). No lawyers (Chen Shuibian). No political scientists (Jason Foo, Taiwan). Not a single western trained leader, unlike much of the Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Philippines elites. Lenin and Trotsky, Ho Chi Minh, Souphanouvong, Sihanouk, many were educated abroad.
In the past in the second generation you had nativist replacement of the foreign trained: Stalin in Russia, Yuan Shikai replacing Sun Yat-sen. But usually by the third generation foreign trained personnel would appear. In China that has not happened yet. Despite the fact that China is the single most important source of foreign students in the United States, these returned students are not yet at the central power level.
Daniel Lynch (USC): The Communist Party has so far not had to adapt to a serious private sector. When it does, will the new leadership respond as engineers, or as Leninists?
I want to make three general points:
First, is this truly the succession? Hu Jintao was selected by Deng Xiaoping to succeed Jiang Zemin, so is this really a full succession. The elders phenomenon is not over yet. It reminds me of Japan at the end of the nineteenth century where groups of elders selected their successors. This lasted into the early 1930s, and when it faded it was replaced in Japan by military control.
Even if China was to enter into nascent democracy you have to worry about the weakness of the institutions of government succession. Who will control the government remains a worrisome question. If the successors of Jiang Zemin are too weak to control the military will the military come to the fore in Chinese politics?
Second, how will these people interact with a rapidly changing society in China? Inequality has been rising for two decades. There is massive redundancy among agricultural workers. This is exacerbated by the WTO accords. There are 20 million urban workers that may lose their jobs with the closure of weak state enterprises. The Communist Party has so far not had to adapt to a serious private sector.
Will the new leadership respond as engineers, or as Leninists to social problems? Will they have the flexibility to allow China to change in ways in which they could lose control? Will the party state permit this?
Third, how may outside events challenge these leaders? The most obvious is Taiwan. Will the government feel they have to demonstrate their nationalist credentials?
There can also be challenges from Korea. Any scenario in which Korea becomes unified but American troops are still in the south could be problematic for China. How flexible will these Chinese leaders be? How creatively can they change their views given the turbulence that surrounds China?
William Overholt (RAND): China has become the leading exemplar of free trade in the world. The U.S. under Bush has been moving backward.
I want to focus on the policy questions. This will probably go down in history as a turning point for China. They've appointed nine guys and told them to obey the rules. They see this as a huge step forward for the rule of law. They are tired of great leaders. Its the Kim Dae-jungs not the Chen Shuibians that have succeeded.
It represents a kind of political turning point, the economic counterpart of 1994. In 1994 they said, we are going to build a socialist market economy. This seemed to be a contradiction in terms. They finally said, forget about the socialist, we are going to build a market economy but not forget our traditions. It is much more of a market economy today than Japan or South Korea.
They are now saying that the government should represent the common needs of the Chinese people, not class struggle. This is marked by bringing the entrepreneurs into the party. One reason commentators don't take this seriously is because these things are not put in the constitution until they have tried it in practice. They have already gotten entrepreneurs in the party. Traditionally Marxism rejected a middle class society. But that is where China is headed. Accountability is the buzzword. Units post their budgets openly: big cities on the internet, little villages on a bulletin board.
We had the party secretary of Nanjing at Harvard while I was there. They have periodic elections of department heads. Whichever two get the lowest number of votes have to resign. This is not democracy, but it is a move toward accountability.
Political reform is where Hu intends to make his mark. They have hired dissidents in the United States to do studies of potential reforms, a very innovative move.
They want a dominant middle class entrepreneurial society. They have one of the five most entrepreneurial societies on earth today. They have put in place nine people who have bought the whole nine yards of globalization, to an extent you won't see even in Washington, DC.
The Indian and Japanese approach was very statist: get a few foreign investors in and steal their technology. The Chinese had a year of experience with working with foreign investors and the WTO and they discovered that they can make a very good car for under $10,000. They are finding real partnerships profitable. GM's China venture has been profitable from the first day. The government is removing all those Japanese/Indian socialist approaches. They have bought in to globalization. They want to have a vital role in globalization. They are happy to have Honda and Buick, etc. They are doing what the Meiji Japanese did: going around the world copying institutions: a banking model from here, a financial model from there.
China has become the leading exemplar of free trade in the world. The U.S. under Bush has been moving backward. The Chinese version of the WTO agreement was much more rigorous than the ones anybody else signed, but they can live with it. They are shifting to new technologies because traditional industries pollute too much. They are moving strongly to deregulate, they are getting rid of all kinds of regulations and licenses. Every unit is supposed to be graded on how many regulations they can get rid of.
China encourages competition and has basically dumped traditional socialism, not only of the Chinese type but of the Japanese and Indian types. There is a huge drive to create a national market. Each airline was being protected by its provincial government. They want 3 national airlines competing on each route. Today 118 Chinese brands are owned by local governments. They are now banning local subsidies in order to establish national brands through competition.
Richard Baum (UCLA): Without a more open, more transparent, more accountable, and more pluralistic regime I am not convinced that this economic growth of the last 20 years can be sustained.
I'm gong to address one point by Dan and one by Bill:
Dan asked, Is this truly a succession? In one sense we can't answer this because we don't know if Jiang Zemin is going to stay behind the scenes as a manipulator, but in another sense it is a succession. None of the current Standing Committee joined the party before the 1949 revolution. None were in power at the time of the 1989 crackdown. Their own careers do not rest on defending the verdict of Tiananmen.
There was an orderly transition. It certainly was orderly. Power did transfer. They did obey their own unofficial norms of retirement. Everyone over 70 did retire. They made a rule in 1997 that everyone over 70 should retire, but they made an immediate exception for Jiang Zemin because they needed continuity. This time there were no exceptions. So far it is more rational, more norm driven, and more institutionalized.
Bill says the congress represents a turning point by making a leadership that draws in the middle class, the entrepreneurs. Maybe yes, maybe no. They have had 20 years of remarkable growth, but with very little political reform to accompany it. The country has become far too diverse to be ruled by a small group of nine individuals meeting behind closed doors to represent it.
Hu Jintao spoke of a unification of will and spirit in the party. That is detrimental to China's future. There are different interests that must be reflected. They are backing off from even the limited acceptance of political pluralism of a decade ago. This does not mean they have to have competing parties but it does mean tolerating a divergence of viewpoint. It is a step backward to promote the "Three Represents" as they have done recently (the Communist Party should represent the most advanced productive forces in the country, the most advanced culture of the people, and the fundamental interests of the whole people). At the minimum there needs to be a broad toleration of the press and of religions. This Three Represents is a minimalist response to the need for changes in society. If they can get away with this it will require a continuation of high levels of growth to keep the goodwill of the millions of displaced workers, 8% per year growth. This may not happen. Corruption is rampant. Without a more open, more transparent, more accountable, and more pluralistic regime I am not convinced that this economic growth of the last 20 years can be sustained.
James Tong: In the past we have seen secretary generals lose their power if they were too strongly in support of reforms, such as Hu Yaobong.
William Overholt: I was sitting with the heads of the central party school just before the congress, and they said, we want continuity, but we don't want any great leaders. American China policy has had a lot of discontinuities because of changes in leadership in Washington. China wants a stable American policy. The commitment to a middle class society is not a commitment to bring a few guys into the Central Committee. They want a society with the kind of politics that are dominated by the values of a middle class society. They are not going to spell out the end game, partly because they don't know with certainty what it will be. As a still picture, China always looks bad. But there is significant motion over time. A kid during a discussion at Beida [Beijing University] asked me whether it was true that China would fail because its politics had fallen behind its economy. Under Mao he would have been dead before the question was out of his mouth. China has quadrupled people's incomes. They give the same speeches we do. That should be reassuring to us despite some authoritarian bumps.
Daniel Lynch: The glass is definitely half full on that side of the table. Yes they are moving away from socialism, but toward what? The people say they want collective leadership. What choice do they have? They are making a virtue out of necessity.
Are we really out of the Deng Xiaoping era, when he was the one to name Hu Jintao? Jiang Zemin has had to accept that and try to stack the new leadership at lower levels. This does not look like a normative transition.
Let's not forget that China executed 15,000 people a year during the past 4 years. This is not a humane leadership
Overholt: If you took a poll of the Chinese population you would get a large majority not only to approve the death penalty but, out of fear of rising crime, to call for more of it.
James Tong: Here are some indices of the growth of a middle class in the 1999-2002 period. There were 3.04 million private car owners in1999. There were 33.7 million internet subscribers in December 2001. There are 250 million credit cards in circulation, 73 million apartment house owners since 1991, and 67 million stock accounts (January 2002).
Published: Tuesday, December 03, 2002