Contrary to the expectations of the China-watching community, Politburo Standing Committee member and presumed heir-apparent Xi Jinping was not promoted to be vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission at the Fourth Plenum in September 2009. This outcome deals a blow to the prevailing theory of leadership succession, which predicted that Xi would follow the pattern of promotion of Hu Jintao before the 16th Party Congress en route to assuming the trifecta of state, party, and military leadership positions at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. This article re-examines the assumptions of the promotion forecasts, analyzes the possible reasons for Xi's failure to be promoted, and offers alternative scenarios.
The conclusion of the Fourth Plenum of the 17th Central Committee in September without making widely anticipated leadership changes—especially with regard to Xi Jinping, the presumptive successor to top leader Hu Jintao—represented a significant departure from practices followed over the past 20 years in the highest echelon of PRC politics. Beijing has offered little by way of public explanation for its deviation from precedent, and in the resulting information void, the range of rumors and competing interpretations put forward in the independent Hong Kong press and by foreign observers has been correspondingly wide-ranging. Seen in the context of broader trends in leadership politics, and absent any indication that Xi has fallen out of favor, however, the plenum's abstention from making leadership changes may reflect broader reforms in leadership selection procedures being implemented in anticipation of the Party's 18th Congress in 2012.
The dominant theme of the recent Chinese Communist Party Central Committee meeting was “intra-Party democracy.” China's top leaders characterized intra-Party democracy as the “lifeblood” of the Party and the principal determinant of whether the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be able to maintain its position of primacy in the future. Directives adopted at the meeting specify that the Party should more strictly and vigorously govern itself, noting that “this matter is more urgent than at any time in PRC history.” It is evident that those who favor more political reforms, especially more competitive elections within the political establishment, now control the platform and agenda of the CCP. This article argues that intra-Party democracy not only reflects the need for institutionalizing the new rules and norms of elite politics in the People's Republic of China (PRC), but might also provide for an incremental and manageable experiment of Chinese-style democracy. The success or failure of this experiment will have profound implications for China's future, and this development should not be too hastily written off as irrelevant by the outside world.
Ever since North Korea began to acquire the elements of a nuclear weapons program in the late ’80s—but especially since Beijing became mediator of the ill-fated Six Party talks in 2003—China's leadership has been faced with an exquisite dilemma: how to encourage or prod its strong-willed, highly volatile Stalinist neighbor to give up the bomb and open up to politically threatening reforms while sustaining the cooperation and support of a seemingly impatient, often internally divided and potentially threatening United States. Judging by public PRC statements and commentary, Beijing has grown increasingly frustrated over its inability to persuade, cajole, or pressure its erstwhile North Korean friend and ally. As a result, China's leaders have become more supportive of tougher international actions toward Pyongyang and less willing to silently endure, downplay, or excuse the North's vitriol and provocative behavior. They appear more tolerant of harsh domestic criticisms of North Korea (and even of elements of Beijing's own approach), far less inclined to present themselves as the North's ally, and more willing to coordinate their approach openly with Washington, Japan, and South Korea. Nevertheless, Beijing's core strategic interests, beliefs, and objectives, along with its suspicions and uncertainties with regard to Washington, almost certainly remain largely unchanged, and hence its highly risk-averse approach to maintaining stability remains paramount. This article identifies the most salient elements of change and continuity in China's approach to North Korea in order to gain a more precise understanding of the range of interests, assumptions, fears, and hopes that will most likely influence the PRC leadership's future behavior.
The Ma Ying-jeou administration has carefully dealt with several recent coincident challenges in domestic politics and cross-Strait relations. These include its perceived failure to respond in a timely and effective manner to the devastation wrought by Typhoon Morakot, controversies over the visit of the Dalai Lama and over the showing of a film biography of Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer, continuing negotiations of cross-Strait economic agreements, and Beijing's advocacy of political dialogue on such matters as military trust-building.
On the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, the posthumous account of politics in the 1980s by former premier and general secretary Zhao Ziyang was published in both Chinese and English. The publication of this memoir follows the publication of several interviews with the former Party leader and marks a continuing effort to speak to history. Publication was apparently intended to remind the world of the tragedy of Tiananmen, but there is little sign in China that it is having much of an impact. Although Zhao's various accounts do not contain startling revelations, they do add much detail and nuance to our understanding of politics in this period. Indeed, the role and rivalries of personalities come through very clearly, allowing one to better understand the political meltdown that befell China in 1989.
China pulled its economy through the financial crisis by recourse to a massive fiscal and monetary stimulus. While successful, the stimulus has significant hidden costs that will burden the economy in the future. Because it was channeled through state banks to state firms, the stimulus strengthened the relative position of state firms and extended the state's reach into the economy. Events in the banking and steel industry exemplify the process. Rapidly changing economic conditions open the possibility that the damage may be reversed by good policy-making going forward.