The previous essay in this series on China’s assertive behavior examined the general role of the Chinese military in the PRC foreign policy process, focusing on leadership and organizational issues. This essay builds directly on that essay by focusing in particular on the military’s role in leadership decision-making and lower-level implementation with regard to political-military crises with foreign powers.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s solid re-election victory on January 14, and the Kuomintang’s respectable showing in the Legislative Yuan contests not only eased anxiety in Beijing and Washington, but also laid a foundation for yet further progress along all sides of the triangular relationship. At the same time, it created challenges for Ma, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Beijing, and the United States.
On 18 January 2012, General Logistics Department Deputy Director Liu Yuan reportedly gave a Chinese New Year speech in which he directly attacked military corruption in the ranks and promised a “do-or-die” fight against it. Within days, General Logistics Department Deputy Director Gu Junshan was arrested on charges of profiting from the illegal sale of military property. Analysts buzzed that the combination of General Liu’s high princeling status, his pending elevation to the Central Military Commission, and the support of heir apparent Xi Jinping may make this anti-corruption effort different and more effective than those in the past. This article examines the issue of PLA corruption, reviews recent cases, and assesses the likely success of General Liu’s efforts.
In September a protest in a Guangdong village threatened to embarrass the province and its party secretary, Wang Yang, who is a candidate for membership on the powerful Politburo Standing Committee when the 18th Party Congress meets later this year. Not only did Wang Yang intervene decisively to defuse tensions, but he also used a plenary session of the provincial party committee to launch an attack on “vested interests” and to call for reviving reform. Guangdong’s outspokenness was quickly echoed in the pages of People’s Daily, scholarly reports, and liberal opinion. The long-term implications are not yet clear, but the revival of reform rhetoric suggests a contentious year of politics as the country heads into the 18th Party Congress.
For several years, economic reforms in China have essentially been dead in the water. The impending leadership transition creates uncertainty about China’s future, but it also opens up new possibilities. Already, the discussion of economic policies in China reflects the greater range of options made possible by the impending leadership change. Recently, the need for a more forceful push on economic reform has been acknowledged publicly in ways that would scarcely have been possible a few years earlier. In addition, the fall of Bo Xilai inevitably involves the repudiation of at least some elements of the package of economic policies—often called “leftist”—he had staked his future on. These policies were inimical to healthy economic reforms, and Bo’s fall creates an opportunity for rethinking and rejuvenation of the reformist agenda. This piece traces some of the key personalities and events involved in this opening policy space. It examines some of the signals Xi Jinping, the presumptive next top leader, has sent in the policy realm. New leaders inevitably seek to stamp their mark on a new package of policies, differentiating themselves from their predecessors (even as they proclaim continuity). We can already see Xi Jinping initiating a process of this sort, though it is far too early to make any judgments about how it will work out. Finally, there will be massive turnover at all levels of the political system. This piece examines a few of the interactions already beginning to take shape between new policy agendas, on the one hand, and the coming widespread turnover of policy-makers and technocrats, on the other.
It may be true, as is often observed, that if all the world’s economists were laid end to end, they would never reach a conclusion. It is all the more notable therefore that an increasing number of observers of China’s economy are skeptical that the high rate of growth sustained over the past three decades is likely to continue much longer. In the past, China’s leadership has weathered economic stress adroitly—most recently, in blunting the impact of the 2008 world economic crisis. However, the Xi Jinping leadership that is about to take the helm later this year is likely to be more diverse in its outlook, credentials, and experience. And so if projections of trouble in China’s economy ahead are accurate, then it is reasonable to inquire into the prospects of an oligarchic leadership around Xi maintaining collective solidarity and providing effective policy responses.
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.