The leadership of China is passing through what is normally a choreographed ballet of renewal and change which occurs once every ten years. But this year, the choreography seems to have had a few unexpected steps, as the succession of a new generation of leaders to be headed by Xi Jinping has run into a few obstacles. Ian Johnson of the New York Times has reported that no dates have as yet been set for the Communist Party Congress, which was originally expected to be held in mid-October. He writes,
One reason for the delay, the experts say, is what now appears to have been a contentious meeting in early August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, China. According to the official script, this was to have been the final big meeting before the congress of leaders from the party’s various factions: the military, big state enterprises, descendants of revolutionary families, leaders of critical Communist Party organizations and others. The details of the congress were to be finalized at Beidaihe and the dates announced later in August.
Instead, according to information that is slowly leaking out, the Beidaihe meeting and other sessions beforehand in Beijing were especially tense. “The atmosphere was very bad, and the struggles were very intense,” said a political analyst with connections to the party’s nerve center, the General Office.
–Ian Johnson, “Off-Script Scramble for Power in a Chinese Leader’s Absence,” New York Times, September 13, 2012.
Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to current President Hu Jintao, disappeared from public view two weeks ago, giving rise to a variety of rumors, from one that said he had hurt his back swimming to others that suggested he might have had a heart attack or a stroke.
Now, he has finally surfaced, putting in an appearance at the China Agricultural University Saturday morning for activities marking this year’s National Science Popularization Day.
See Xinhuanet, September 15, 2012 (with photos).
Before he reappeared, John Garnaut, the China correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that Xi planned to crack down on the security apparatus, including the removal from the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the position with the security portfolio, as part of a downsizing of the group from nine to seven members. Much remains up in the air, however.
See John Garnaut, “Xi plans to crack down on security,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2012.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Moore of the The Daily Telegraph provides intriguing details of the possible causes of Xi Jinping’s two-week absence and the delay in announcing the dates for the Party Congress. From Beijing, he writes,
“At the Beidaihe meeting, no decisions were made but the old gang criticised Xi harshly, especially Qiao Shi and Song Ping,” said the former editor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Both Mr Qiao, 87, and Mr Song, 95, are strong supporters of Hu Jintao, the outgoing president.
The elders allegedly accused Mr Xi of not sticking to the rules by meeting twice with members of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army, while Mr Hu was visiting Hong Kong in early July.
One meeting occurred in Mr Xi’s house and the other at the commission’s compound.
“They called him unreliable and even brought up the idea of significantly delaying the party congress,” said the source. “The fight was so harsh that Jiang Zemin [the former president] had to mediate.”
With Hu Jintao preparing to step down from power, and hand over to Mr Xi, he faces the uncertainty of whether his successor will continue his legacy, or turn against him, a perennial fear for a Chinese politician.
A new rift appears to have emerged between the two main factions in the Communist Party: the “red” princelings, the up-and-coming children of Communist Party heroes, and the technocrats.
Mr Xi is a princeling, while Mr Hu is a technocrat, although Mr Xi has been successful at bridging the divide. “Song Ping and the other elders are suspicious of Mr Xi and the other princelings because they are not obedient. They saw these princelings grow up and know the difference between them and Mr Hu and Wen Jiabao [China’s premier], who are more polite and less personally ambitious”.
The pressure on Mr Xi, who is the focus of the world’s attention as he tries to grasp his chance to be president, may explain his mysterious absence.
–Malcom Moore (Beijing) “Xi Jinping ‘under huge pressure’ from inside the Communist party; Xi Jinping, China’s president-in-waiting, who has not been seen in public for two weeks, was under intense pressure from within the Communist party before he disappeared, the Daily Telegraph has been told,” The Daily Telegraph, September 14, 2012 (7:45 p.m. BST).
The Chinese succession is of tremendous importance not only to the citizens of China, but also to the rest of the world. The choreography is not going as planned. Stay tuned.
The Trenchant Observer