To outside observers, the move may appear to be little more than bureaucratic reshuffling: trim two seats from the nine-member body that governs China by consensus at the pinnacle of the Communist Party.
But the proposal by Chinese leaders to downsize the body, the Politburo Standing Committee, offers one of the clearest windows available into the priorities of the party and the mechanics of power-sharing and factional struggles as the leadership transition nears its climax at a weeklong congress scheduled to open November 8.
Political insiders paint a portrait of party leaders pushing the change to maximise their holds on power while trying to steer the top echelons of the party away from the sclerosis and cronyism that has set in as more interests have become represented at the top.
Party insiders say party leaders, including Hu Jintao, the current party chief and president, and Xi Jinping, his designated successor, are sticking to an earlier decision to shrink the committee to seven seats, which was the number before 2002.
“All the signs and information indicate that this time the standing committee will have seven members,” said Chen Ziming, a Beijing political commentator.
Members of the committee represent different patronage networks and hold different portfolios — security, propaganda, the economy and so on — which can result in competing interests.
Business lobbies are represented informally on the committee, and the members have ties to China’s state-owned enterprises; the chief of domestic security, Zhou Yongkang, once managed a state-owned oil company and is known to be a defender of the oil industry.