China’s ruling Communist Party begins an annual conclave in Beijing tomorrow, with top officials seeking to shape the core leadership that will run what may become the world’s biggest economy in the next decade.
The party’s leaders are jockeying to mold the membership of the nine-person Politburo Standing Committee that will rule collectively under the leadership of Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to be named party head late next year, said Huang Jing, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“This is a time when the next generation of China’s leaders needs to be exposed,” Huang said. “Who will get more pictures, more photo opportunities, whose talk or speech will be reported -- all this can be read as confirmation.”
Potential candidates range from an English-speaking former Harvard University scholar to a North Korean-trained economist. Their outlook will have increasing importance as China’s economy, the biggest contributor to global growth, is buffeted by Europe’s deepening debt crisis. While the International Monetary Fund and Standard Chartered Plc. estimate China’s economy may surpass the U.S. in size during their tenure, there are rising concerns growth will slow.
President Hu Jintao is due to step down from his role as General Secretary of the 80-million member Communist Party at a congress late next year and retire from the presidency in March 2013 after a decade in power. Growth has averaged 10.9 percent a year since Hu took office in 2003 and China has overtaken Japan to become the world’s second-biggest economy.
Cementing Hu’s Legacy
The four-day meeting of the 370-odd full members and alternates of the party’s Central Committee that begins tomorrow will help cement his legacy and help winnow down the lists for the next Politburo Standing Committee, says Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of Chinese history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Vice Premier Li Keqiang is in line to replace Wen Jiabao as premier.
Last year’s plenum elevated Xi to vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, a post Hu held before assuming the top leadership positions beginning in 2002. Huang said he expects Xi to play an even more prominent role in this year’s event, such as making a major address. The plenum, which normally issues a report at its close, should also affirm policies set by Hu, including a push to emphasize virtue among party cadres and a campaign against corruption, Huang said.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents in the quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll of investors, analysts and traders said economic growth in China may decline to less than 5 percent annually by 2016. Growth was 9.5 percent in the second quarter. China’s exports rose the least in seven months in September, prompting the customs bureau to warn of “severe” challenges as the global economic outlook dims.
People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said last month that his top concern remained “high inflation.” The PBOC has increased interest rates five times and boosted banks’ reserve requirements nine times over the past year to rein in prices and curb speculation in the property market.
Consumer prices exceeded 6 percent for a fourth month, rising 6.1 percent in September from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said today. Producer prices rose 6.5 percent last month, a separate report showed.
Huang said to look for the prominence given at the plenum to standing committee aspirants such as Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Party Organization Department head Li Yuanchao, who attended a leadership course at Harvard University. Bo Xilai, the party boss of southwestern Chongqing Municipality and a former Commerce Minister who led an effort to reintroduce revolutionary songs and slogans, is also a figure to watch, Huang said. All are members of the wider, 25-person Politburo.
Only two members of the current standing committee, Xi and Li Keqiang, are expected to remain on after the Party Congress, Cheng Li, a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution, wrote in a July 6 note for Macquarie Capital Securities Ltd.
Brookings’ Li said there are 14 candidates for what will likely be nine spots on the standing committee. Xi and Li Keqiang, as well as Wang Qishan, Li Yuanchao, Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang and propaganda department head Liu Yunshan are likely to be elevated, Cheng Li said in the note.
Lam said former General Secretary Jiang Zemin, 85, who made an appearance at an event in Beijing on Oct. 9, may also be pushing for Shanghai party boss Yu Zhengsheng to join the Politburo Standing Committee in addition to Bo and Wang. Hu and his allies are “scheming to keep Bo out” of the standing committee, Lam said.
“This is a lot of shadow boxing, back-stabbing and puppeteering,” Lam said.
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