China named Vice President Xi Jinping to the highest military body, solidifying his status as the country’s leader-in-waiting ahead of a Communist Party reshuffle scheduled for 2012.
The 57-year-old Xi was named to the commission, which controls the country’s more than 2-million strong armed forces, at an annual meeting of some 360 top officials of the party’s central committee in Beijing. The gathering also focused on the next five-year development plan for the world’s second-biggest economy, according to a statement posted yesterday on the party’s website.
The military title, bestowed upon President Hu Jintao in 1999 when he was vice president, would enable Xi to burnish ties with the People’s Liberation Army before the 2012 party congress that will choose the new leadership, said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Hu chairs the military commission and is party general secretary.
“According to party tradition, Xi Jinping as the heir apparent, as the next general secretary, should be able to get on to the military commission at least two years before the change of power,” Lam said. “He will have enough time to learn the ropes of the commission.”
The central committee members and alternates met behind closed doors at a Beijing hotel from Oct. 15. The central committee said China would continue boosting domestic demand to continue China’s economic growth and to “actively participate” in global economic governance, according to a communiqué posted on the party’s website.
China’s economy expanded 10.3 percent in the three months ending in June from a year earlier. Consumption as a percentage of the economy is less than 40 percent, according to Societe Generale AG, compared to about 70 percent in the U.S.
According to the communiqué, the party pledged to “pay more attention to protecting and improving people’s livelihood and promoting social fairness and justice” and to boost rural incomes.
The statement reflects the concern of Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao that rising income gaps in China threaten to spark more riots, strikes and other social unrest that might threaten the party’s 61-year rule.
A study released in August by Zurich-based Credit Suisse AG reported that the top 10 percent of China’s households earn 139,000 yuan ($20,930) a year, more than triple the official figures. In contrast, the bottom 10 percent earns 5,350 yuan, the study written by Wang Xiaolu of the Beijing-based China Reform Foundation said. China’s statistics bureau called the methodology flawed.
The party plenum was closed to foreign media. Security guards at the Jingxi Hotel wouldn’t allow journalists to take pictures of the building on Oct. 15, saying it was a military district. Rows of Audi A6 sedans were seen parked inside the hotel grounds.
Many of China’s biggest state-run companies and top bankers are represented in the central committee or its roster of alternate members, including China Construction Bank Chairman Guo Shuqing and PetroChina Co. Chairman Jiang Jiemin, according to a 2007 membership list.
As a vice chairman of the military commission, Xi will have more say over a defense budget that, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, is the world’s second biggest. Xi held a staff job in the People’s Liberation Army in the early 1980s that included service at the commission, according to his official biography.
Xi, the son of a former vice premier, was previously party chief in eastern China’s Zhejiang province and in neighboring Shanghai. He was also in charge of organizing the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and last year’s celebrations marking 60 years of Communist Party rule. Xi served as Shanghai’s party secretary for a year after the previous incumbent, Chen Liangyu, was fired and later imprisoned for 18 years for corruption.
Xi holds a doctorate in law and a chemical engineering degree from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, Hu’s alma mater, according to his biography. He is married to a popular singer.
Many foreign leaders meet with Xi during his trips abroad or in Beijing. U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, discussed the value of the yuan with Xi in Beijing last week.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mohamed al-Mady praised Xi as “a great leader” after meeting him on April 9 at a meeting on the tropical Chinese island of Hainan.
“He came through the ranks and he is very impressive in talking to us about China’s future” al-Mady said. Al-Mady’s Riyadh-based company is the world’s biggest petrochemical maker.
Chinese scholars refer to Xi as a “princeling” because he’s the son of a prominent official. His father, Xi Zhongxun, who died in 2002, was responsible for making southern China’s Guangdong province a centerpiece for economic opening in 1979. His recommendations were ratified at the time by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, according to his official biography.
In 1980, China made the Guangdong fishing village of Shenzhen, which abuts Hong Kong, a special economic zone. It is now a Chicago-sized metropolis with a per-capita income of more than $10,000 a year.