In gauging the prospects for U.S. strategy toward the AfPak issue, it is important to understand the interests and motives, specific policies (and how they interact with U.S. goals), actual and potential influence, and possible future orientation and behavior of the Chinese leadership with regard to each of the above areas, as well as possible lines of internal debate. This essay offers an analysis of these factors and concludes with some speculations on whether and how China’s stance toward the AfPak issue might be modified to lend greater support to the Obama strategy.
The economic situation in Taiwan continued to show signs of a nascent turnaround, but Ma Ying-jeou’s political fortunes continued their downward slide. ECFA remains a focus of DPP opposition, but both Taipei and Beijing seem committed to completing the agreement by May, and formal talks have begun. At the same time, cross-Strait political dialogue appears to have been put on the back burner for now, though both sides believe it will be necessary at some future point. In this context emerged the sharp PRC reaction against the Obama administration’s announcement of a $6.4 billion package of arms for Taiwan. What Beijing will actually do to demonstrate its strong objections remains to be seen, as does the Chinese response to the forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama to the White House. In light of the potential importance of the PRC’s new, more assertive approach to what it sees as assaults on its “core interests,” most of this essay is devoted to examining the arms sales issue.
China’s 11 January 2010 test of a missile defense system offers important examples of improved strategic communications, particularly when compared with the 2007 ASAT test. The Beijing government clearly had a strategic communications plan in place and issued immediate announcements, following them with a series of official and unofficial commentaries on the subject. This article explores the scope and scale of the strategic communications plan, with the goals of divining the government’s intentions for the test as well as the accompanying perception-management campaign.
The Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee, which met in September, passed a decision on promoting “inner-party democracy,” a political direction with which CCP general secretary Hu Jintao is closely identified. Although there can be beneficial aspects of inner-party democracy, including expanding the pool from which cadres are drawn and increasing the number of people participating in the political process, the development of inner-party democracy over the past decade suggests that movement will be slow and that renewed emphasis on electoral practices within the Party is unlikely to stem corruption or reduce social conflict.
From the beginning, two questions have been asked about China’s stimulus program: Would it work? And given that many measures taken would have harmful long-run effects, would it be worth it? The first of these arguments is now over: The stimulus program worked, and reasonably broad-based growth is now apparent. A modest but unambiguous shift in macroeconomic policy has occurred in January 2010. However, with the return of growth, policy-makers now face a new set of problems that directly and indirectly reveal some of the costs and long-run harmful effects of the stimulus. This is already evident in the complex struggle to control bank lending in January 2010. Efforts to address potential problems are hobbled by a political leadership class that appears to be satisfied with the current situation and unwilling to tackle difficult problems.
The Fourth Plenum departed from precedent in failing to appoint Politburo Standing Committee member and PRC Vice President Xi Jinping to the Party’s military decision-making body, and so provoked speculation that Party General Secretary Hu Jintao is maneuvering to have his crony Li Keqiang succeed him rather than Xi. A close examination of the roles and activities of Li Keqiang in the Chinese leadership since his appointment to the Politburo Standing Committee at the 17th Party Congress in 2007, however, shows that he has been engaged almost exclusively in the work of the State Council, the PRC state’s executive arm, under the supervision of Premier Wen Jiabao, while Xi Jinping has assumed responsibility for running the Party apparatus under the direction of Hu Jintao. This rigorous division of labor has not changed in the months since the plenum. This evidence, together with other indications in PRC media of Xi’s status, suggests that Xi remains Hu’s heir apparent and that Li continues to prepare to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier.
China is set to experience a major leadership turnover at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. Current top leaders, including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and Chairman of the National People’s Congress Wu Bangguo, are all expected to retire. The Politburo and its Standing Committee will be repopulated with a large number of new faces. Who are the most promising candidates for these supreme leadership bodies? What are the main characteristics and principal criteria for the advancement of these newcomers? Can one intelligently forecast the possible leadership lineup and factional distribution of power? To what extent will this new generation of leaders change the way Chinese politics operates? This essay aims to shed light on these questions and others by studying the 62 provincial chiefs—Party secretaries and governors—of China’s 31 province-level administrative entities. There is little doubt that today’s provincial chiefs will be among tomorrow’s national decision-makers. One can reasonably expect that a subset of these leaders will rule the world’s most populous country for most of this decade and beyond.