The rumors have floated around for a while now, as China s leadership scrambles to contain political scandals andfactional infighting that have inconveniently bubbled up just asthe country is gearing up for its once-in-a-decade leadershiptransition. On May 9, Reuters reported its sources had confirmedthat China was seriously considering a delay in its upcomingfive-yearly congress by a few months amid internal debate over thesize and makeup of its top decision-making body. Instead ofoccurring as expected this September or October, the 18 th National Congress may take place between November and January2013, according to Reuters. The names of the bodies (or central organs as they aresometimes called) that rule China through the bureaucracy of theChinese Communist Party are almost deliberately dull, as if theirtedious designations can somehow obscure their tremendous power.The power structures at the very top narrows like this: the CentralCommittee (300-plus full and alternate members), the Politburo(currently 24 members, after the suspension of disgraced Chongqingparty boss Bo Xilai ), the Politburo Standing Committee (the nine members at the veryapex of power) and, finally, the General Secretary of the Party sCentral Committee (the most important of the three main titlesChina s current leader Hu Jintao holds). |
( PHOTOS: China Celebrates 90 Years of Communism ) Then there s a separate but interlocking structure of stategovernmental positions that includes the State Council (the roughequivalent to China s Cabinet), which reports to the President ofChina (Hu again). And the Central Military Commission, which, too,is helmed by Hu as its Chairman and controls a further nexus ofpower in China. Plus, the nebulous advisory body called the ChinesePeople s Political Consultative Conference and the CentralCommission for Discipline Inspection, which is like the Party sinternal-affairs department. And then there are other influential offshoots of the CentralCommittee, like the Central Guidance Commission for BuildingSpiritual Civilization and the Central Political and LegislativeCommittee.
There s the Secretariat, which oversees theanodyne-sounding but incredibly important General Office, CentralOrganization Department and Central International LiaisonDepartment, among others. Finally, there s a bewildering array ofso-called central leading groups that report to the CentralCommittee, including my personal favorite, the Central LeadingGroup for Protection of Party Secrets. Got all that? ( MORE: Murder, Lies, Abuse Of Power And Other Crimes Of The ChineseCentury ) What s most at stake at the 18 th National Congress is the announcement of the grandest of pooh-bahswho will make up China s ruling Standing Committee. As of thisfall, all but two of the nine members on the Standing Committeewill have reached the mandatory retirement age of 67. Xi Jinpingand Li Keqiang, the pair who are left, are widely believed to bethe heirs apparent to Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao, respectively.
Thatleaves seven other positions open, although speculation is mountingthat the Standing Committee may be shaved to just seven members intotal or even expanded to 11 people in all. Given the opacity with which the Communist Party operates in China,the jockeying for these Standing Committee seats will likely happenout of the public eye. But with the downfall of Bo Xilai, who wasvying for promotion to the vaunted body, factional rivalries maywell be hardening between at least two main camps: the princelings(offspring of Communist Party royalty, including Xi) and theCommunist Youth League alumni (represented by presumed future No. 2Li).
That s not to say that Xi and Li don t get along. But withprominent princeling Bo sidelined and his wife suspected in themurder of a British businessman in China, the delicate balance ofpower between the various factions within the Party may well beupset. ( MORE: Why China s Future Leader Is Going to Iowa ) That s bad news for a leadership that is fixated on what Chinacalls stability maintenance. A delay in the National Congresscould mean more time to work out the kinks in a system that notonly has been thrown into disarray by the purging of a major figurebut also must constantly harmonize the interests of three poles ofpower: the Party, the military and the state itself. Two of thelast five National Congresses were postponed, so a delay isn t anunprecedented event.
Nor are unexpected turns in a leadershiptransition. Only the last of the People s Republic s powerhandovers was considered truly peaceful. And even Xi s eventualpositioning as Hu s successor was somewhat of a surprise. Allthose committees and conferences that rule China may seemmind-numbing. But with the People s Republic now the world ssecond-largest economy and a rising global power, the stakes havenever been higher.
PHOTOS: Hu Jintao's Day at the White House.
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