There are a lot of reasons to doubt US president-elect Donald Trump’s incoming national security and foreign affairs team.
But his choice of Iowa governor Terry Branstad as the next US ambassador to China isn’t among them.
Branstad, it’s true, doesn’t speak Mandarin like former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, rumored to be under consideration for Trump’s State department. Nor is he an American of Chinese descent like former Washington governor Gary Locke. Both Huntsman and Locke served as ambassadors to China in the Obama administration.
Branstad has been elected to six terms as Iowa’s governor (for the first time in 1982 and most recently in 2014), and he has increasingly seen the effects of closer trade with China from the vantage point of a state that, after California, produces more agricultural output than anywhere else in the United States.
More importantly, however, Branstad has something of a personal relationship with Chinese president Xi Jinping (习近平). Branstad was serving as governor when Xi made a two-week trip as part of a Chinese delegation to rural Muscatine in Iowa. Since that time, Branstad has visited China many times, most recently at a trade delegation in 2011, and Branstad hosted a dinner for Xi in 2012 when China’s paramount leader returned to Iowa. Continue reading Why Branstad is such a smart choice as ambassador to China→
Though we normally think of the Communist-ruled Vietnam as an autocratic country, it too has politics — and it even has elections.
Vietnam’s messy politics have been on a rare, full display over the course of the past month in the lead-up to this week’s 12th party congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam). Vietnam’s ruling party will elect a central committee of between 160 and 180 members, a smaller politburo of 16 members and, from among the politburo’s ranks, the party’s general secretary, Vietnam’s president and Vietnam’s prime minister.
It’s as if the United States were selecting, in one eight-day period, the American president, vice president, executive cabinet chiefs and congressional leadership, in a secret conclave of elite gatekeepers.
But it is also a series of elections among discrete actors with divergent interests, and that’s led to some high-stakes politicking in the last month. Though just 1,510 delegates are voting in the current party congress, they represent a membership of 4.5 million Vietnamese. That’s just a fraction of the 91.7 million people that comprise Vietnam’s population, but it’s notable that the selection process has left some room for surprise.
The most audacious, perhaps, has been the tussle for power at the top, with outgoing prime minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng gunning for the most powerful position — general secretary. The current general secretary, Nguyễn Phú Trọng, however, has been less than enthusiastic about ceding the role after just five years in the office, and international analysts had thought Dũng’s elevation as general secretary more likely than not throughout 2015.
Given that Dũng is essentially term-limited as prime minister, the only options for him seemed to be up — or out.
So after a series of internal machinations, Dũng seems now out of a job — and out of both of the central committee and the politburo after a decade serving as prime minister. An unofficial rule that Vietnam’s top party brass retire after age 65 means that both Trọng (age 71) and Dũng (age 66) were never likely to remain long at the top echelons of party leadership. But it’s a disappointment for a man that businessmen and global outsiders, in particular, had come to regard as the best of Vietnam’s ruling Communists.
In his decade as prime minister, Dũng developed a reputation as relatively reformist and pro-Western. His tenure coincided with a wave of liberalization both at home and in Vietnam’s international relations. Shortly after taking power in 2006, Dũng oversaw Vietnam’s formal accession to the World Trade Organization, and he has been a leading proponent of Vietnam’s participation in ongoing negotiations to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could bring greater economic development and middle-class job opportunities to Vietnam, a country that still depends on much of its income from coffee (it’s the world’s largest exporter), rice and cheap manufacturing.
Though the country also resolved a long-simmering border dispute with China, Dũng has generally improved US-Vietnamese bilateral relations in a bid to contain China’s influence, and Trọng himself even traveled to Washington for the first time since the two countries ended their bloody Cold War-era conflict in the mid-1970s. US president Barack Obama is even expected to visit Hanoi in May, one of the highlights of his final year in office.
Hard-line conservatives within Vietnam’s ruling party may be thrilled to see Dũng sidelined, which clears the way for Trọng’s reelection as general secretary, though even that is not certain until the party congress ends on Thursday. It’s reasonable to expect that Trọng may not serve until the next party congress expected in 2021, when he will be 76 years old.
But Dũng’s reputation as a reformer has always been somewhat less than consistent. Reforms during Dũng’s premiership did not extend to political liberalization, and internet censorship worsened with new regulations in 2013 forbidding online discussion of political events. While Vietnam today feels less like an authoritarian police state than North Korea or even the People’s Republic of China, Dũng’s government cracked down on dissidents and democracy activists in several high-profile incidents. Moreover, Dũng has championed large, public-sector behemoths that critics have argued facilitate widespread corruption within the party system — corruption that, they allege, also extends to the prime minister’s family. Indeed, Dũng’s star dimmed somewhat in 2010 after a state shipbuilding company, Vinashin, was nearly bankrupted amid allegations of profits being skimmed for personal gain.
But for a country as opaque as Vietnam, with one of the world’s few old-school communist governments, Trọng’s apparent resilience could be a signal for the country’s future policy direction. It may mean that Vietnam’s ruling elites believe even limited reforms under Dũng were too much and too soon, though TPP accession will require Vietnam to lock in its commitment to rule-of-law reforms and the kind of deeper liberalization and privatization that it has so far shunned.
Or it may mean that the delegates didn’t want to deliver too much power to a prime minister who’s been developing a growing profile for a decade as the country’s most respected leader abroad and who could wield extraordinary power as general secretary, thereby upsetting the balance in Vietnam’s government-by-consensus model.
Or it may mean that party leaders do not want to promote someone whose relatively hawkish tone on China has pulled Vietnam closer to the United States and away from their mutual Communist allies to the north. After all, China still wields significant economic influence over Vietnam.
Or it may mean that delegates and the central committee are eager to pass the leadership (including, eventually, the top position of general secretary) to a younger generation, just as Dũng’s rise in 2006 marked a transition to a postwar generation of party officials.
Or it may mean very little at all, other than a contest of personalities. Given the decades-long push to open Vietnamese markets on ‘Chinese-style’ state capitalist lines, the most likely outcome is that neither Trọng’s reelection or Dũng’s victory means much to Vietnam’s long-term trajectory.
What we will know by the end of the week, when the party congress concludes on January 28, is the following:
the new members of the politburo, expected to see significant turnover due to the retirement of many of the current members now over age 65;
the new prime minister, perhaps another young reformer, though the frontrunner for now seems to be Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, age 61, a current (if low-ranking) member of the politburo, one of four deputy prime ministers and not particularly close to Dũng;
a new president (today it’s a mostly ceremonial role) to replace the retiring Trương Tấn Sang; and
whether Trọng will stay on as general secretary, though we will not necessarily know about any deals that could see Trọng step down between now and the expected 13th party congress.
Those appointments, which will be duly ratified by Vietnam’s National Congress later this year as a formal matter, will not necessarily tell us so much about where Vietnam may or may not be headed. But the extenuated tussle between Dũng and Trọng, far more open and public than any before it (and more public than any fight for the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership, for example) shows that there is real political competition in Vietnam, even at its top levels.
Henry Kissinger, the U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser who paved the way for U.S. president Richard M. Nixon’s historic visit in February 1972 and thereafter, the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations, met with Li Keqiang (李克强), the new premier of the People’s Republic of China on Tuesday:
[Li] said China is willing to work with the US to develop an unprecedented type of relationship in order to allow both sides to benefit from bilateral cooperation and play their due roles in maintaining world peace.
Kissinger highlighted the vital importance of US-China relations in promoting world peace and development, suggesting that both sides should work on long-term planning and strengthen communication to foster ties.
It must have been quite a stunning chat, considering that the current ‘Fifth Generation’ of leadership is essentially four generations of Chinese governance removed from the generation that Kissinger and Nixon encountered — Chinese premier Zhao Enlai (周恩来) and Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong (毛泽东). Like him or love him, Kissinger remains one of the top old-school Sinologists in the United States, writing at age 89 a new book, On China, just last year. When Nixon visited China, Li was just 17 years old. The change that China has seen in the ensuing 41 years is one of the most amazing transformations of any human society in such a short period of time.
More background here on Li from my seven-part series from November 2012 on the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党). Li speaks fluent English; unlike many of his colleagues on the Standing Committee, he is a protégé of Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) and unlike Chinese president Xi Jinping (习近平), Li is not a princeling. An economic reformer, Li served as the Party secretary of Henan province previously, and he’s emphasized since becoming premier that his chief tasks will be to roll back Chinese government spending in favor of private sector development, corruption and the massive size of Chinese government bureaucracy, and tackling the growing gap between China’s rich and poor.
It is now, of course, the Year of the Snake, as people of Chinese descent across the world today mark the Lunar New Year.
But, for world politics, the Chinese new year will bring the formal inauguration in March of Xi Jinping (习近平) as the next president of the People’s Republic of China, completing the transition from Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) to Xi as China’s ‘paramount leader’ — Xi already became the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) last November with the election of seven members (including five new members) of the Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP.
Furthermore, Li Keqiang (李克强) is set to succeed the popular, but now scandal-plagued Wen Jiabao (温家宝) as the premier of the PRC government at the opening of the 12th People’s National Congress in March.
Just last week, Xi drew a bright line against corruption in the wake of accusations that several of Wen’s family members had amassed fortunes largely due to Wen’s powerful position and in the aftermath of the most spectacular Chinese political scandal in two decades surrounding now-disgraced former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来).
This is the seventh and final post in a series examining the Chinese leaders named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that concluded November 14. Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here, Liu Yunshan here, Yu Zhengsheng here, Wang Qishan here and likely future premier Li Keqiang here.
In many ways, there’s not much I can add to what the world’s press has already written about Xi Jinping (习近平) in the past 24 hours, who’s been the newest figure on the world scene since becoming the general secretary of the Party yesterday and, in a bit of a surprise, also the chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission. He is expected to take over before March 2013 as China’s president, thereby fully succeeding Hu Jintao (胡锦涛).
There’s much we already know about Xi — starting with the fact that much of the world’s press and other policymakers find Xi leagues more expressive and relatable than Hu.
Xi is a ‘princeling’ — the son of Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary hero, former vice premier and Politburo member, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution, but returned to help Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to develop parts of Guangdong provide as special economic zones. When Xi Zhongxun was purged from the leadership in the 1960s, however, and Xi Jinping was just 15 years old, he was sent off to a remote village in Shaanxi province in the center of China.
As Robert Lawrence Kuhn writes in How China’s Leaders Think, Xi Jinping’s time in the ‘wilderness,’ so to speak, has now become part of his mythology:
Xi Jinping spent the next six years in this harsh, poor rural area — chopping hay, reaping wheat and herding sheep as a member of a local work unit. He lived in a cave house, as was the local custom. But he adjusted well to his new life, impressing older colleagues with his enthusiasm to labor long and hard, and with his personal modesty. He built a reputation for endurance by winning wrestling matches with farmers, and by carrying ‘a shoulder pole of twin 110-pound buckets of wheat for several miles across mountain paths without showing fatigue.’
Xi did not lose his love of studying, however: by night, he would read thick books in the dim light of kerosene lamps. The locals liked to go to his cave to listen to his stories about history and the world beyond the mountains. Everyone, old and young, enjoyed chatting with him.
I’m not sure whether this is just so much hagiography for the next ‘paramount leader’ of the world’s largest country, but there’s no doubt that the young Xi certainly made an impression, and Xi was soon off to Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, where he studied engineering. Xi also holds a doctorate in law.
He spent much of his early career in Fujian, a province of nearly 37 million people on the Chinese coast just north of Guangdong province.
In 2002, Xi became the Party secretary of Zhejiang province, the province that lies immediately south of Shanghai, is home to 54 million people and is generally one of China’s most prosperous provinces, with double-digit growth rates during much of Xi’s tenure. Kuhn reports that Xi was untainted by allegations of corruption and, indeed, had ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption and dishonesty — a fact that bodes well at a time when the Party’s been struck with corruption scandals that touch everyone from outgoing premier Wen Jiabao to the disgraced former Party secretary of Chongqing municipality, Bo Xilai.
Although Xi was appointed Party secretary of Shanghai municipality in 2007, he was appointed in the same year to the Politburo Standing Committee, and he quickly left the Shanghai position to assume the PRC vice presidency where, among other duties, he was responsible for overseeing the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Notably, his wife is Peng Liyuan, who until very recently was more well-known in China than Xi. Peng is a popular singer and entertainer with the People’s Liberation Army (she’s technically a major general). Perhaps even more interesting, however, is that Xi’s first wife, Ke Lingling is the daughter of a former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Ke still lives there today (and not in China).
This is the sixth in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that concluded November 14. Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here, Liu Yunshan here, Yu Zhengsheng here and Wang Qishan here.
Unless something incredibly drastic happens in the coming months, Li Keqiang (李克强) seems likely to succeed Wen Jiabao (温家宝) as the premier of the government of the People’s Republic of China at the opening of the 12th People’s National Congress in March 2013.
Along with China’s presumptive new ‘paramount leader,’ Xi Jinping (习近平), Li is one of just two of the previous nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee who remain on the committee after this week’s Congress, which concluded Wednesday. In addition to Xi and Li, five new members joined the committee (although all are over age 64, hardly making them ‘new’).
After today, however, Li is essentially the second-most important government official in all of China, and he is expected to be a cautious reformer who’s keen on narrowing economic inequality in China and widening the social safety net.
Li, as noted, has been a member of the Politburo Standing Committee since 2007 and he’s been the PRC’s executive vice premier since 2007 as well. He is also the youngest member, at age 57, on the committee.
He was a Party secretary in Liaoning, a province of 43 million people, that borders North Korea, from 2004 to 2007, spearheading a campaign to revitalize China’s northeast.
Previously, he served as the governor and the Party’s vice secretary of Henan province, China’s third most-populous province in the east-central heartland of the country with 94 million people, and one of the largest provincial economies in the country. Although Henan province’s economy grew during Li’s tenure (indeed, with an emphasis on agricultural modernization that saw rural growth exceed already-high levels of province-wide growth), he also presided over a mini-scandal involving the contamination of blood that may have infected up to one million people with HIV.
A BBC profile notes that Li has attacked corruption that has plagued the Chinese government:
A US diplomatic cable released by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks described Mr Li as “engaging and well-informed”.
In a private conversation with the US ambassador in 2007, he called China’s economic figures “unreliable” and warned that official corruption was the biggest cause of public resentment, according to the leaked cables.
Unlike many of the newly appointed members of the Politburo Standing Committee who are protégés of former president Jiang Zemin (江泽民), however, Li is more a protégé of outgoing current president Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), whom he encountered in the leadership of the Party’s youth league in the 1980s. With Hu stepping back from active government, however, Li may have few natural allies with a relatively older and conservative group now comprising the Politburo Standing Committee.
Cheng Li, director of research and a senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center, surmises that although Li lacks Wen’s political charisma, he may well be central to many key policy issues over the next decade:
Based on his previous work and the populist policy agenda he shares with his mentor Hu Jintao, Li’s hot-button policy issues will include increasing employment, offering more affordable housing, providing basic health care, balancing regional development, and promoting innovation in clean energy technology.
Interestingly, Li’s wife, Cheng Hong, is a professor of English language and literature in Beijing, and Li himself is fluent in English, just as fellow Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan.
Like Xi, he spent time during the Cultural Revolution working in rural China, on a farm, and like Xi, Li also has a doctorate — in Li’s case, in economics.
As predicted last week: the new Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party is as follows:
Xi Jinping (习近平), who is expected to become the president of the People’s Republic of China, the general secretary of the Party and ‘paramount leader’, and a ‘princeling’ whose father was a Party dignitary;
Li Keqiang (李克强), who is expected to become premier;
Zhang Dejiang (张德江), a longtime hand who has served as Party secretary in Guangdong province and most recently, replaced disgraced Party figure Bo Xilai as Party secretary in Chongqing municipality — and also a ‘princeling’;
Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), Party secretary in Shanghai municipality and a princeling as well;
Liu Yunshan (刘云山), director of the Party’s propaganda department (i.e., in charge of censorship and Internet restriction as well);
Wang Qishan (王岐山), a vice premier for economic, energy and financial affairs, and expected to play a major, reformist role in economic policy in Xi’s government; and
Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), currently the Party secretary of Tianjin municipality, and a former official in Shenzhen’s special economic zone.
Suffragio‘s profiles of Xi and Li will come shortly, but in the meanwhile, you can read all about the five new members by clicking the links above.
The Politburo Standing Committee has been reduced from nine members to just seven. Interestingly, the five new members (Xi and Li were already members) are relatively old — and so old that they will not be eligible for re-appointment in 2017 at the next National Congress because each will be older than the 67-year age limit for members of the committee.
Both Zhang Gaoli and Zhang Dejiang, as well as Yu Zhengsheng are firmly protégés of former president Jiang Zemin (江泽民), who preceded current president Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), who is stepping down to make way for Xi.
Left out are two key Hu allies: Li Yuanchao, currently director of the Party’s organization department, and Wang Yang, Party secretary in Guangdong province and perhaps the most notable advocate for political reform.
The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) concluded today, but the photo above comes from a plucky photo essay at China People’s Daily, entitled ‘Beautiful Scenery,’ and depicts 14 photos of women delighting at various moments during the Congress.
As stated in the slideshow: ‘beautiful ritual girls, female reporters and delegates to the Party congress become beautiful scenery during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.’
Hat tip goes to Kathleen McLaughin, who’s been keeping a daily diary of the Congress for Foreign Policy,andwho argues that gender disparity in China is perhaps getting worse, not better:
While 521 women serve as delegates in this party congress — 23 percent of the total, up from 18 percent a decade ago and higher than the 20 percent that women make up in the U.S. Senate — the members of China’s ceremonial electorate have far less influence over the process than their U.S. counterparts.
Gender discrimination often seems to be getting worse in China: Although a large percentage of Chinese women are employed (70 percent, compared with 25 percent in India), urban Chinese women earn about 67 percent of what men make, according to a 2010 survey from the All-China Women’s Federation. This summer, women in Guangzhou shaved their heads in protest of growing discriminatory policies around the country that require girls to score higher than boys on college entrance exams.
The Party hasn’t historically been incredibly welcoming to women, and in its history, it has yet to elevate a single woman to the Politburo Standing Committee, the chief governing body of the Party (and, accordingly, the Chinese government). The members of the Politburo Standing Committee are likely to be announced by the end of this week.
One woman with an outside chance of being named to the Politburo Standing Committee is Liu Yandong (刘延东), who’s been a member of the Politburo (the only woman currently serving on the Politburo) since 2007 and who has served as a state councilor since 2008. Liu (pictured immediately above) is a ‘princeling,’ as her father is Liu Ruilong, a former vice minister of agriculture, and she’s been close to outgoing Chinese leader Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) for three decades — notably, they worked together with the Party’s youth league in the 1980s. Continue reading The role of women in the CCP: just so much ‘beautiful scenery’?→
This is the fifth in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8. Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here, Liu Yunshan here and Yu Zhengsheng here.
Of all the potential new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, no one has a more assured spot than Wang Qishan (王岐山), who is expected to be the economic policy supremo of the next generation of leadership of the People’s Republic of China.
The only question is whether he’ll be elevated to executive vice premier under the likely new PRC premier, Li Keqiang(李克强), which had seemed likelier earlier in the summer and autumn, but now seems more uncertain, according to party sources.
The Congress concluded on Wednesday, with the Politburo Standing Committee members to be named today or tomorrow.
Wang, age 64, has served as the vice premier for economic, energy and financial affairs since 2007, when he became a Politburo member as well.
Previously, from 1989 to 1997, he was vice governor, then governor of the China Construction Bank, one of the world’s largest banks and indeed one of the world’s largest corporations. As vice governor of Guangdong province in 2007, he was instrumental in the liquidation of the Guangdong International Trust and Investment Company, which, according to Robert Lawrence Kuhn in How China’s Leaders Think, signaled to the world that China was serious about developing market mechanisms that could bring discipline to the financial sector.
As such, he developed keen ties with former leader Jiang Zemin (江泽民), but his real patron among the older leadership is Jiang’s former premier, Zhu Ronghi (朱镕基), who, before his elevation to the premiership in 1998, served as vice premier and as the governor of China’s central bank (Wang served a brief stint as vice governor there as well).
Wang served as the Party chairman of Hainan province — the tropical island at the south of the Chinese mainland that stylizes itself as China’s Hawaii — from 2002 to 2003. Hainan is, itself, an interesting story of Chinese internal growth — formerly part of Guangdong province until 1988, China’s leaders separated Hainan as its own province and designated it a ‘special economic area.’ Despite being seen as something of an economic backwater for centuries, its economy has grown in leaps and bounds, even by Chinese standards, in the past decade, and China hopes to transform it into an international tourism destination within the next decade.
He thereupon served as the mayor of Beijing from 2003 to 2007 and handled much of the preparation for the city’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Kuhn reports that Wang is a humorous and sophisticated rising star:
When the Olympics was approaching, a distinguished American financier asked for [Wang’s] business card. “You won’t need my card,” Wang, then Beijing mayor, said with a smile. “If the Olympics is successful,” he joked, “I’ll be too high to help you — and if it’s not successful, I won’t have a phone!”
Wang, perhaps more than Li, China’s current ‘paramount leader,’ president and Party general secretary Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) or the expected new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping (习近平), is at ease with the international media — check out his interview with U.S. secretary of state Tim Geithner and Charlie Rose. So Wang will likely have a major role to play in U.S. foreign relations as well, especially given the key economic issues involved in the U.S.-China relationship.
This is the fourth in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8. Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here and Liu Yunshan here.
Today, we continue our look at the expected members of the Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee with Yu Zhengsheng(俞正声), currently the Party secretary of Shanghai municipality — where he presided over the citywide expo in 2010 — and a Politburo member since 2002.
Yu’s elevation — if true — to the Standing Committee would seem to be a victory for the conservative elite — he’s a ‘princeling,’ a cautious economic reformer at best, and close to former leader Deng Xiaoping and former leader Jiang Zemin (江泽民). With the Congress likely to reduce the number of Standing Committee members from nine to seven, his inclusion would mean the exclusion of the relatively more reformist Party secretary of Guangdong province, Wang Yang (汪洋) and the leader of the Party’s organization department, Li Yuanchao (李源潮) — Wang, and especially Li, are considered protégés of the outgoing general secretary, president and ‘paramount leader,’ Hu Jintao (胡锦涛).
He served as the Party’s minister of construction from 1998 to 2001.
From 2002 to 2007, he was the Party secretary in Hubei province, a province of over 57 million people in central China, home to the Three Gorges Dam.
This is the third in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8. Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here and Zhang Dejiang here.
Liu Yunshun (刘云山), more than almost any other person in the People’s Republic of China, is responsible for the execution of the so-called ‘Great Firewall’ — that mix of controls that censors access to the Internet within China.
This isn’t a history of the ‘Great Firewall,’ but if you haven’t, go read James Fallows’s essential piece on Internet censorship in China in The Atlantic, and you’ll start to understand why Liu is a natural choice for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee. As Fallows writes, there’s really not one ‘Great Firewall,’ but a sophisticated systems of controls. Internet-based data comes to China via three major choke points: from Japan to Beijing/Tianjin, from Japan to Shanghai, and from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, making it easier for China to censor information coming into the country with a number of technologically-enabled strategies. Furthermore, although the system is relatively easily circumvented by a proxy server or, to better effect, with a virtual private network (VPN), few Chinese citizens can afford or seem willing to go through the hassle of circumventing the ‘Great Firewall.’
Liu (pictured above), aged 65, has been a Politburo member since 2002, and since 2007, he been the director of the Party’s propaganda department, and so the PRC’s chief official responsible for propaganda and censorship.
He’s vice chair of the Party’s splendidly euphemistic Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization, which essentially controls the Party’s propaganda department, currently chaired by outgoing Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun — Liu is expected to succeed Li upon his ascension to the Politburo Standing Committee as the PRC’s top ‘propaganda czar,’ where he is expected to continue the Party’s strict controls over media and Internet censorship.
This is the second in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8.
But another Zhang is expected to be appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee — Zhang Dejiang (张德江), a North Korean expert who’s been part of the wider 25-member Politburo since 2002 and who has served as a vice premier for energy, telecommunications and transportation.
Like the other Zhang, this Zhang is also 66, and he’s also a protégé of former president and ‘paramount leader’ Jiang Zemin (江泽民).
Earlier this year, Zhang stepped into the spotlight to take over from the disgraced Bo Xilai, who was forced to step down as the Party secretary of Chongqing municipality in March 2012 amid various scandals about corruption and a high-profile trial of his wife, Gu Kailai, who was convicted in August for murdering a British expat in August. Late last month, Bo was expelled from the National People’s Congress, and he’s expected to be tried for charges soon as well. It marked a remarkable downfall for Bo and the most sensational Chinese political scandal in recent memory.
Bo had attained near rock-star status as Chongqing’s leader, and his leftist ‘Chongqing model’ that featured double-digit growth along with attention to social welfare programs in the face of China’s rising inequality, as well as populist attacks on organized crime and a retro embrace of the ‘red’ culture of old-school Maoism and the songs and slogans of the Cultural Revolution, caused great discomfort among the highest echelons of the Chinese government, who determined that his anti-corruption programs were less than honest governance than the corrupt shakedowns of a leader on the verge of building his own personality cult.
Like Zhang and Xi Jinping (习近平), who is expected to become China’s new ‘paramount leader,’ Bo was a ‘princeling’ — the son of an earlier senior Party dignitary, Bo Yibo — one of China’s most powerful leaders in the 1980s and the 1990s — which makes the younger Bo’s downfall all the more remarkable.
With Zhang firmly reasserting more orthodox control over Chongqing — he denied earlier this week that a ‘Chongqing model’ even exists– he appears to have passed a key hurdle in a career that’s seen as many highlights as disappointments.
Now, it appears that Zhang will take the seat on the Politburo Standing Committee that seemed at one time virtually assured for Bo.
As noted above, Zhang’s father Zhang Zhiyi served as a major general in the People’s Liberation Army.
Zhang studied Korean in his youth and studied economics in Pyongyang in North Korea before returning to China, and his Korean expertise brought him initially to prominence when he arranged Jiang’s trip to North Korea in 1990 and, under Jiang’s patronage, rose through the ranks in Jilin province, which borders North Korea and Russia in the far northeast of China. Zhang was appointed Party secretary of Jilin province in 1995 and served until 1998, and he was credited with successfully addressing the issue of Korean immigration — about 4.25% of Jilin’s population is ethnically Korean. Continue reading Fifth Generation: Who is Zhang Dejiang?→
This is the first in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8.
With the apparent finalization of the seven members (reduced from nine) of the new Politburo Standing Committee, it appears that Zhang Gaoli (张高丽) has made the cut, and indeed, Zhang typifies the ‘new’ faces of the so-called ‘fifth generation’ of China’s leadership — neither incredibly new nor incredibly liberal.
Zhang, age 66, would be among the oldest of the Standing Committee’s new members and is a protégé of former president Jiang Zemin (江泽民). Although Zhang is expected to be a strong voice for continued economic reform, he’s not exactly a liberal reformer in the style of Wang Yang, the Party secretary in Guangdong who has been relatively lax about censorship and restrictions on political speech.
What does stand out about Zhang’s record, though, is that he’s been at the forefront of China’s economic wave in three different positions in three urban hot spots on China’s eastern coast over the past 15 years — so much so that Zhang could emerge as the new executive vice premier, essentially the lead economics policymaker in China — it’s thought that he and Wang Qishan (王岐山) are in competition for the role.
Currently, Zhang currently serves as the Party secretary in Tianjin municipality — along with Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, Tianjin is one of four municipalities that is essentially governed like China’s other provinces. Tianjin, just north of Beijing, has long been a key transportation hub on eastern China’s coast and, with 11.1 million people, China’s fourth largest city — to put it in perspective, Tianjin has just a handful more people than Chicago and New York combined. As Party secretary, Zhang has been instrumental in developing Tianjin’s Binhai New Area — a new economic zone along the coast that aims to replicate the Pudong New Area in Shanghai, and by all accounts, is succeeding at breakneck speed, and has already surpassed Pudong in terms of GDP.
All this debt-fuelled investment in trophy projects has certainly resulted in rapid headline growth rates, and clearly it has boosted Zhang’s career. But how much of it will ever generate an economic return is doubtful. The handful of analysts who have examined Tianjin’s finances in detail warn of a massive bad debt explosion in the making…. As party boss in Tianjin, Zhang has proved himself an ardent proponent of China’s investment-at-all-costs growth trajectory.
That is exactly the model economists say Beijing must now reject if it is to avoid the dreaded middle-income trap and sustain its development over the next 10 years.
Unfortunately, if Zhang does indeed succeed to the economic policy hot-seat next week, it looks as if China’s chances of a successful rebalancing away from debt-funded investment and towards growth powered by private consumption will be severely diminished.
Perhaps more fundamentally, however, Zhang made his mark as the Party secretary of Shenzhen from 1997 to 2002. Shenzhen is a special economic zone adjacent to Hong Kong — it was essentially opened up to free-market policies by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and it was one of the first experiments in the great transformation of China from a Maoist communist economy one into a ‘market socialist’ economy. Continue reading Fifth Generation: Who is Zhang Gaoli?→
In advance of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党), set to begin November 8, the South China Morning Postprinted Friday what it believes will be the list of the seven members of the most elite body in Chinese policymaking: the Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. The list has been corroborated by other news sources, and while not final, seems very likely to be the seven set to be appointed at the Congress.
The Standing Committee, expected to be reduced from nine to just seven members, is drawn from the larger (~25 members) Politburo, which itself is drawn from the ~300-member Central Committee of the Party.
If the reports are accurate, the Standing Committee will include the following members:
Xi Jinping (习近平), a member of the Standing Committee since 2007 and the current vice president of the People’s Republic of China, is widely expected to replace Hu Jintao as China’s ‘paramount leader,’ general secretary of the Party and, later in March 2013, as PRC president. Xi is a ‘princeling,’ one of a group of current Chinese political leaders whose fathers were also senior Party leader during the first decades of Communist rule in China. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was purged during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Xi previously served as the Party secretary of Zhejiang province (essentially, Shanghai’s hinterland on the south-central coast of eastern China) and then of Shanghai municipality in 2007 until becoming vice president.
Li Keqiang (李克强), also a Standing Committee member since 2007 and the PRC’s executive vice premier, is widely expected to replace Wen Jiabao as China’s premier in March 2013. He served as Party secretary in Liaoning province from 2004 to 2007. He’s seen as a Hu protege, but will have a hard time following Wen, who remains perhaps the most charismatic and genuinely popular Party leader within the PRC today.
Wang Qishan (王岐山), a vice premier for economic, energy and financial affairs and a Politburo member since 2007, is seen as one of the most capable up-and-coming Chinese leaders. Notably, he’s also seen as a proponent of further liberalization of China’s economy, additional fiscal reforms, and further foreign development and investment. He headed the China Construction Bank in the 1990s, took over as the Party chairman of Hainan province (the tropical island at the south of the Chinese mainland) from 2002 to 2003 and served as mayor of Beijing from 2003 to 2007 before his appointment as vice premier.
Zhang Dejiang (张德江), a vice premier for energy, telecommunications, and transportation and a Politburo member since 2002, like Wang, is a protege of former PRC president Jiang Zemin, Hu’s predecessor, and like Xi, is also a ‘princeling.’ Zhang has a long career in Chinese politics — he was Party secretary of Jilin province (in China’s northeast, bordering North Korea and Russia) from 1995 to 1998 under Jiang, Party secretary of Zhejiang province from 1998 to 2002, Party secretary of Guangdong province (the largest province in China, and the home of Guangzhou and the Pearl River valley, where much of China’s amazing export growth has taken place in the past two decades) from 2002 to 2007, during the worst of the SARS crisis, and most recently, since March 2012, the Party secretary of Chongqing municipality following the removal of disgraced Chinese leader Bo Xilai.
Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), currently the Party secretary of Shanghai municipality and a Politburo member since 2002, is also a princeling, and was very close to former leader Deng Xiaoping as well as to Jiang. He was the PRC’s minister of construction from 1998 to 2001, Party chair of Hubei province in central China from 2002 to 2007, and thereupon became Party secretary of Shanghai.
Liu Yunshan (刘云山), director of the Party’s propaganda department and a Politburo member since 2002, who will likely remain in charge of propaganda and censorship. Certainly no princeling, Liu rose up through the Party’s youth league. His elevation to the Standing Committee marks a victory for the more conservative elements of the Party.
Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), currently the Party secretary of Tianjin municipality and a Politburo member since 2007, and yet another Jiang protege. Zhang rose to prominence as the Party secretary in Shenzhen from 1997 to 2002 — Shenzhen is the special economic zone adjacent to Hong Kong that emerged as one of the PRC’s few early free-market zones, and Zhang’s experiences there make it likely that he’ll be among the Standing Committee members most likely to support further economic reform. He thereupon became Party secretary of Shandong province, just south of Beijing on east-central coast of China, from 2002 to 2007, and was thereafter appointed to his current post in Tianjin.
If the line-up is confirmed later this month, it will mark a significantly conservative leadership with respect to most reforms, although potentially much more open to further economic reforms. These seven Standing Committee members would be seen as much closer to Jiang than to the ‘fourth generation’ leaders, Hu and Wen. Continue reading Unveiling the PRC’s new Politburo Standing Committee members→