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China Leadership Monitor 2012 No. 38

August 6, 2012

Chinese Leadership and Elite Responses to the U.S. Pacific Pivot

Over the past several years, the most significant overall U.S. foreign policy action of relevance to China has been the announcement and initial follow-through of the so-called Pacific pivot or “Rebalancing” of U.S. attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific. Many observers and officials in the United States, China, Asia, and elsewhere view this policy move as an important response not only to the growing overall significance of the region to American interests, but in particular to the challenges and opportunities presented by an increasingly powerful China. The Pacific Pivot has thus drawn considerable attention and levels of controversy in many quarters, and nowhere more so than in Beijing. This article takes a close look at Beijing’s reactions to Washington’s increased stress on Asia, including its assessments of the perceived implications of this policy shift for the region and for China in particular.

August 6, 2012

Shaping the Future—Part I: Domestic Developments in Taiwan

Three main themes emerged in Taiwan politics in the wake of President Ma Ying-jeou’s convincing reelection victory in January. First, in a highly contentious election that portended continuing intra-party strife, the DPP chose its new chairman, former premier Su Tseng-chang. Second, the DPP and KMT ended up in a total impasse in the LY over the issue of allowing U.S. beef into Taiwan until the relevant UN body provided a face-saving way out. And third, Ma experienced a rapid and steep decline in his public support rate, and difficulty even within his own party over his policies on American beef, utility rates, gasoline prices, and taxes. In addition, while Ma pushed hard on various aspects of Taiwan’s medium- and long-term external economic ties, the short-term international economic situation in major trading partners such as the EU, the United States, Japan, and even China remained uncertain, and forecasts for Taiwan’s economic growth this year sagged. Unsurprisingly, public opinion polls on the island reflected a sense of pessimism about the prospects for near-term recovery. This essay addresses those issues. Part II, to appear in the next issue of China Leadership Monitor, will discuss the Mainland’s reaction to Ma’s victory—and to his subsequent political problems—and to the DPP’s positioning, as well as the U.S. reaction and prospects for ties between Washington and Taipei in the period ahead.

August 6, 2012

The Bo Xilai Affair and the PLA

On 15 March 2012, Chongqing Municipality leader, princeling and aspiring national elite Bo Xilai was stripped of his leadership posts, following the dramatic flight of his former deputy police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and revelations about the possible involvement of Bo’s wife in the murder of a British businessman. In the wake of his purge, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Falungong-controlled media were rife with rumors about Bo’s relationships with senior military officers and even a possible coup attempt in Beijing. This article examines Bo’s ties with the PLA through his career, assesses the validity of various claims about the fallout in the military from his purge, and speculates about any possible implications for party-military relations.

August 6, 2012

Economic Uncertainty Fuels Political Misgivings

Political uncertainty is inevitable as China prepares for this fall’s leadership transition. This year economic conditions are also unusually unpredictable. In particular, while China is undergoing an inevitable economic slowdown, few have a clear idea of how drastic the slowdown will be, or how painful the transition to a slower growth path will be. Facing these multiple uncertainties, Chinese politicians are trying to leave themselves as much flexibility as possible.

August 6, 2012

Bo Xilai and Reform: What Will Be the Impact of His Removal?

The unexpected flight of Chongqing’s Public Security head to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February started an unexpected sequence of events that led to the removal of Bo Xilai, the princeling head of the Chongqing party committee, and the subsequent decision to investigate him. Depending on the outcome of that party investigation, Bo could then be subject to civil proceedings (as is almost always the case). These events have disrupted what appeared to be the smooth transition planned for the 18th Party Congress later this fall. There has been much commentary on these events, and different observers look at the significance and impact of the Bo Xilai case on Chinese politics. Looking at Bo’s unique place in the Chinese political system and at the actions taken and commentary issued by the government in Beijing, this article concludes that Beijing is taking steps to narrow the case against Bo as much as possible, presenting it as a case of violating party discipline and the law. Although this makes sense in the short run, there may be ramifications of the case that will reverberate for a long time.

August 6, 2012

The Bo Xilai Affair in Central Leadership Politics

From a procedural perspective, the removal of Bo Xilai from Chongqing and from the party Politburo resembles the 2006 purge of Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu and the 1995 takedown of Beijing City party chief Chen Xitong. Bo’s removal in that respect therefore does not indicate a departure from the “rules of the game” as played in the last two decades. From a political perspective, each of the three purges—of the two Chens and of Bo Xilai—removed an irritant to the top leadership at an important moment of transition. The Politburo leadership has, publicly at least, sustained its usual façade of unity throughout the Bo affair, and Bo’s removal likely strengthens rather than disrupts preparations for convocation of the 18th Party Congress this fall.

August 6, 2012

China’s Top Future Leaders to Watch: Biographical Sketches of Possible Members of the post-2012 Politburo (Part 2)

The composition of the new Politburo, including generational attributes and individual idiosyncratic characteristics, group dynamics, and the factional balance of power, will have profound implications for China’s economic priorities, social stability, political trajectory, and foreign relations. To a great extent, these leaders’ political position and policy preferences are often shaped or constrained by their personal experience, leadership expertise, factional affiliation, and bureaucratic portfolio. This series will provide concise and primarily fact-based biographies for 25 to 30 possible members of the next Politburo, focusing on the following three aspects: personal and professional background, family and patron-client ties, and political prospects and policy preferences. The aim is to present a complete set of biographical sketches of all members of this supreme leadership body by the time the 18th Party Congress has wrapped up in the fall of 2012.