With the nomination of Frank Hsieh Chang-ting as the Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate to oppose Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan’s March 2008 presidential election, and with the PRC gearing up greater pressure on Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, this is an appropriate moment to think about how the election will affect cross-Strait relations. The policies adopted by the next Taipei administration will, of course, be decisive in determining the course of those relations over the next four or even eight years. However, the campaign itself will shape both the way the next administration approaches cross-Strait issues and the mindset of Mainland policymakers as they prepare to deal with the new Taiwan leadership. It will also condition U.S. attitudes toward the winner.
Following key leadership transitions in the Pentagon and Pacific Command (PACOM), strategic military-to-military meetings have continued apace in 2007 with visits to China by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Pace and PACOM Commander Admiral Keating; reciprocal visits by PLA Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli to the United States; and an exchange between Deputy Chief of the General Staff Zhang Qinsheng and DoD leaders at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, where China announced that it would finally agree to a military hotline. While the regular conduct of these exchanges is a net positive for strategic U.S.-China relations, the externals highlight persistent tension and misperceptions about intent and capabilities. Further, the lack of demonstrable progress in some spheres, such as the establishment of any “incidents at sea” protocol under the Military Maritime Cooperative Agreement framework or the scheduling of Second Artillery Commander Jing Zhiyuan’s reciprocal visit to the United States, requires analysis and explanation.
China’s middle class has developed rapidly over the past three decades. If one assumes that there was no one, or at least very few people, who could be considered middle class in 1978, there are now probably around 50 million people who can be considered middle class. Although the emergence of such a group in three decades is impressive, given the size of China’s population, it will be many years until we can speak of China as a middle-class society. In the meantime, despite indications that the middle class is more participatory than their economically less well off neighbors, there is no indication that the middle class—much less the wealthy—desires to challenge the political status quo. The fact that many more people identify themselves as middle class than can be reasonably classified as such by sociological criteria indicates that large swaths of Chinese society identify with middle-class aspirations. Alongside many fissiparous tendencies in China, this is one trend that suggests social cohesion.
In recent months, several important initiatives to strengthen central government authority have moved ahead under Premier Wen Jiabao’s supervision. Three particularly important efforts were apparent as of mid-2007. First, a long-anticipated decision to have central government state-owned enterprises begin paying dividends to the government was finally made in May 2007. Second, a recent series of industrial policy measures has given the central government a more coherent, but also more intrusive position. Finally, the center has continued to strengthen its monitoring of local land use and planning. These initiatives together make up an important trend in policymaking that complements the general “left” or populist tilt to policymaking in the Hu-Wen administration. These initiatives also have an impact on Wen Jiabao’s political fortunes. Wen has shored up his position and made himself nearly indispensable in the run-up to the 17th Party Congress.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) national congress that will meet in the fall of this year is likely to register only limited changes among China’s top military leadership. These changes will only slightly alter the representation of the military on the Party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo, and the make-up of the key military policy body, the Central Military Commission (CMC).
The leadership of China’s four provincial-level cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing—is arguably the most important sub-national decision-making group in the country. The top leadership positions in these four major cities are high-powered steppingstones for further promotions. For this reason—and also for these cities’ pacesetting role in China’s economic and sociopolitical development—factional politics has been particularly dynamic. Recently, senior leaders of all these cities went through a major reshuffling. This article focuses on the newly reappointed municipal Party standing committees, including their organizational compositions, members’ generational attributes, and factional distribution of power. This analysis previews leadership changes in the upcoming 17th Party Congress.