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Speculation rife over new members of elite standing committee led by Pres Xi

There is widespread speculation about the new members of the standing committee of the politburo, China’s elite decision-making body led by President Xi Jinping.

world Updated: Oct 23, 2017 19:14 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Communist Party of China,standing committee of the politburo,President Xi Jinping
People walk past a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping beside a sidewalk in Beijing, during the ongoing Communist Party Congress, on October 23, 2017. (AFP)

Opinion is divided among Chinese academics and experts on who will be the new members of the Communist Party’s highest decision-making body and whether its strength will be reduced from the current seven to five.

The names of the new members are a closely guarded secret and will be known only when President Xi Jinping leads them out to a stage at the Great Hall of the People on October 25, a day after the national congress of the Communist Party officially concludes.

In 2012, when Xi took over as general secretary of the party, the number of members of the standing committee of the politburo was reduced from nine to seven.

A security guard is seen during a news conference at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on October 23, 2017. (Reuters)

With four of the current members expected to retire, and uncertainty looming over whether member and anti-graft czar Wang Qishan will get a new post, there has been widespread speculation about the new members.

Hu Chunhua, the 54-year-old party secretary of Guangdong, one of China’s richest provinces, and Chen Miner, 57, the party secretary of Chongqing, one of the four directly administered municipalities, are seen as top contenders for the committee.

The other names being circulated are Wang Yang, 62, one of the four vice-premiers and a respected economist, and Li Zhanshu, 67, director of the party’s national security commission and considered close to Xi.

Wang Huning, 62, an influential thinker since the 1990s who has advised presidents Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi, is another possible candidate for the standing committee.

Han Zheng, 63, another experienced politician who was the party chief in Shanghai, is also said to be in the reckoning. The name of Zhao Leji, 60, head of the organisation department of the party’sCentral Committee, is also making the rounds.

Real power in China lies with the standing committee, currently headed by Xi in his capacity as general secretary of the Communist Party.

Other members hold posts such as premier, chairman of the National People’s Congress (the parliament), head of the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (the top anti-graft body) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (the top advisory body.)

Meetings of the committee are never made public and kept a closely guarded secret. Differences between leaders too are never allowed to come out in the open.

How the committee works is shrouded in mystery too but decisions are widely believed to be taken after intense negotiations.

“Hu Chunhua and Chen Miner are the frontrunners to become standing committee members,” said Li Cheng, director of the John L Thornton China Centre at the Washington-based Brookings Institution and an expert on elite Chinese politics.

“Most people think Li Zhanshu, Han Zheng, Hu Chunhua, Wang Yang, Chen Miner are highly possible,” Zhang Lifan, Beijing-based historian and political commentator, told Hindustan Times.

A Chinese man waves in front of a picture showing President Xi Jinping with children on display at an exhibition highlighting China's achievements under five years of his leadership at the Beijing Exhibition Hall in the capital city, where the Communist Party congress on October 23, 2017. (AP)

They are all pragmatics and all cautious. They have lot of administrative experience. But they are also less international in their outlook. They are all nationalists,” said Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute, King's College, London.

One of the main questions being debated is the future of Wang Qishan, a member of the current standing committee who carried out Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. This is especially because Wang’s name came up in accusations of corruption levelled by Guo Wengui, a billionaire property tycoon, who fled abroad earlier this year.

“What will happen to Wang Qishan (the head of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, who has been instrumental in carrying out Xi’s anti-corruption campaign against high-level officials but who is confronted with corruption allegations stemming from Guo Wengui’s exposé),” asked Gao Wenqian, senior policy advisor at New York-based Human Rights in China and the author of the official biographies of Mao Zedong and former premier Zhou Enlai.

According to Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based economist and political commentator, the number of members in the standing committee will be cut.

“The committee number will be brought down to five. Cutting to five will be helpful for more centralised power which will be better for decision-making. China has always been known for its high efficiency in decision-making. No matter who is picked, he must follow Xi’s leadership, facilitate Xi’s plans and make it easier to form an efficient committee,” Hu said.

A Chinese man stands watch before a Communist flag on display at an exhibition highlighting China's achievements under five years of the leadership of President Xi Jinping at the Beijing Exhibition Hall in the capital city where the Communist Party congress is being held on October 23, 2017. (AP)

The standing committee’s size will matter, according to Li Cheng, but the number and composition is a matter of speculation till it is announced.

“The size of the standing committee matters. We don’t know whether the number will be five, seven or nine. Each has its incentive, purpose and objective. But it’s speculation,” said Li.

Political commentator Zhang agreed.

“According to the history of the Chinese Communist Party, the possibility of a last moment change cannot be ruled out,” Zhang said.

Possible standing committee members:

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang likely to continue.

Political leaders under consideration: Li Zhanshu, Han Zheng, Zhao Leji, Hu Chunhua, Wang Yang, Chen Miner and Wang Huning.