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China's Next Leaders Jockey for Position


BEIJING—Chinese politicians are jockeying for position ahead of an expected shift in power two years from now, some with Western-style publicity campaigns that suggest China's leaders could bring with them a more populist style of governance.


The jockeying is being spurred by the meeting of the National People's Congress. The legislative body is often seen as a rubber stamp for decisions made elsewhere, and this year's agenda lacks significant new bills or personnel changes.


At the China's National People's Congress gets underway, the world gets a glimpse of political stars on the rise. The News Hub's Andrew Browne and John Bussey discuss why the U.S. is watching the Congress closely.

On the Way Up

Although the positions won't be filled until 2012, politicians are jockeying for the top jobs in China. Among the favorites are

Andy Wong/Associated Press

Bo Xilai, center, party secretary of the western city of Chongqing, is one of the politicians hoping for a top spot.

But the thousands of Chinese politicos are descending on Beijing in advance of a change in power in 2012, when the Communist Party's once-in-five-years congress is held. While the top two jobs are considered spoken for, potential candidates are engaging in subtle and not-so-subtle campaigns for other plum positions.


They include Bo Xilai, Communist Party secretary of the big city of Chongqing, and rival Wang Yang, his predecessor in the job and now governor of southern Guangdong province.


Nicknamed the "two cannons," both have pushed showy slogans campaigns and tried to connect with people at the grass roots. Mr. Bo, for example, has launched a crackdown on organized crime that has turned him into a popular hero.


Both men also aspire to a seat in the country's most powerful body, the Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo, China's top policy body. "The change in leadership might feel remote, but Chinese politicians are already beginning to take action," says Li Cheng, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank. "The main contenders for the top positions in 2012 are already engaged in Chinese-style political campaigns."

Journal Community

For outsiders, the result is likely to be less a change in policy in China than a change in style. While many of China's new leaders are likely to be as bland as their predecessors, some are making tentative stabs at public-relations campaigns. That could herald a new, more populist style of governance in contrast to the largely technocratic bent of China's previous leaders.


"People try to demonstrate they have fresh ideas and warrant being elevated to the highest echelons of the system," says Kenneth Lieberthal, author of several books on China's leadership.


It's difficult to know exactly what is happening behind the scenes in Beijing, and top Chinese politicians rarely speak with the Western media. But China watchers say current Communist Party leader and head of state Hu Jintao is due to be succeeded by senior Communist Party official Xi Jinping, while Mr. Wen is expected to be succeeded by his lieutenant, Vice Premier Li Keqiang.


The powerful Standing Committee is more uncertain. That group currently has nine members but seven are due to retire in 2012, with only Messrs. Xi and Li remaining. It could also be whittled down to seven members, leaving five open slots.

At the Meetings

Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

A Security peered from behind a curtain during a plenary session of the National People's Congress Monday.


Over the past year, the 60-year-old Mr. Bo has conducted a campaign against organized crime that has resulted in the arrests of 3,348 people, according to the latest official figure.


In a departure from previous campaigns, those arrested include Communist Party officials who backed the alleged criminals, including members of Mr. Bo's own administration and members of the police force.


These successes have made Mr. Bo widely popular in a country where corruption is seen as a serious problem. He was named man of the year on an online poll conducted by People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper, and sends out text messages to the city's 13 million cellphone users.


His appeal was on display Saturday when the Chongqing delegation had a public meeting at the congress. Mr. Bo arrived 45 minutes late, followed by a gaggle of reporters who squealed and shouted as they all tried to enter the meeting room.


Mr. Bo faced mostly friendly questions but gave a robust defense of the crackdown, which has been criticized some legal analysts as being more of a Maoist-style political campaign than an exercise in the rule of law. "Sometimes there have been over 100 witnesses" against the accused, Mr. Bo said. "That's more than you get in European or American courts."


Some observers note that the campaign is certain to give Mr. Bo ammunition against his predecessor in Chongqing, Mr. Wang. Many of those arrested were senior officials under Mr. Wang.


Mr. Wang, 54, has countered with public calls for "thought emancipation"—a hint that he would allow more ideological freedom if he had a say.


Earlier this year, Chinese media widely reprinted a long, hagiographic article about Mr. Wang that had originally appeared in a magazine run by the People's Daily. The article claimed that Mr. Wang had been discovered by the father of China's economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping.


Then there are more conventional leaders, such as Zhang Gaoli, the publicity-shy party secretary in the port city-state of Tianjin. Mr. Zhang is cited in a book on China's new leadership as wanting to "Do more. Speak less." He is also credited with helping to turn around the economic fortunes of Tianjin, which had been somewhat left behind in the country's recent boom.


The rise of the Internet in China, which makes controlling information more difficult and can more quickly mobilize public opinion, has put a greater premium than before on effectiveness.


"The succession process is not going to be played by the same old game of cutting people's knees out from under them," said Russell Moses, a Beijing-based political scientist. "It's more [a question of] of what can you do out in the field."


Another wild card that has emerged is an effort by previous Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to bolster his waning influence. Mr. Hu succeeded Mr. Jiang as party chief in 2002 and head of state in 2003, but Mr. Jiang stayed on another year as chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and maintains influence there.

Last week, Mr. Jiang published a collection of essays, "Annual Chronology of Jiang Zemin Thought."

The title itself was an affront to many Chinese, for whom the moniker "Thought" can be affixed only to the writings of the founder of the People's Republic, Mao Zedong.


Mr. Jiang also wrote about events after he retired in 2004, breaking a tradition over the past 15 years of having retired leaders not publicly engage in current affairs.

Most crucially, Mr. Jiang ruminated over how he stepped down from the military commission in 2004, saying he had to "mull it over" for a long time—even though according to the Communist Party's internal rules on age he had not choice but to retire.

Some observers see it as a quiet nudge at Mr. Hu to step down as head of the same commission and not hang on.

"The more he tries to intervene, the more he damages his legacy," says Huang Jing, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore. "He's hindering the institutional arrangement for power transition."


Write to Ian Johnson at ian.johnson@wsj.com


[ 2010-03-11, 12:13 ] ȸ : 3032
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