The Road to China’s 18th Party Congress

IITM CSC Article #42
6 November 2012


The Road to China’s 18th Party Congress

From November 8, 2012 the 18th Congress is due to start. The current Head of the Party Hu Jintao who was chosen in 2002, will have to give up this position and later in 2013, his position as President of China. It is expected that at this Congress both the highest echelons of Party power, namely the Politburo and its Standing Committee will see many changes as most of its present incumbents are due to retire. Also chosen, as Premier of China in 2003, Wen Jiabao will make way for another Premier in 2013, when the National Peoples’ Congress meets for its annual session. In what seems to be a well-choreographed succession to these two posts, Xi Jinping and Li keqiang are slated to take up these posts.

Building on the foundations laid by successive regimes since Deng Xiaoping’s policy of reform and opening up, the ten years of the Hu-Wen regime saw China exceeding most expectations of its growth. By 2010, it had overtaken Japan to become the world’s second largest economy.  By 2009, it had become the largest exporter, overtaking Germany. China is a place of dazzling growth with impressive statistics. On the other hand, all this has come at a price, namely China has become the largest emitter of carbon greenhouse gases. After the downturn in the economies of USA, European Union and other parts of the world the export driven model is no longer viable. Chinese GDP figures since 2009 have not crossed double digits, as was the case earlier. The social contract under which the dominant role of the CCP in political governance is maintained as long as the Party-State delivers growth and raising standards of living of the majority is under stress.  This is evident from analyses of China’s domestic situation by its own leaders and official spokesmen. Dissatisfaction of public with governance is reflected in mass protests, stated to number 200,000 in 2011 involving some 4 million people. The root causes for this lie in corruption by Party cadres, inequity in the growth patterns, disparities between urban and rural areas, arbitrary, illegal and exploitative actions, underdeveloped legal system and a lack of a social security net, to mention only a few.  The Hu-Wen regime took many actions to shift the focus from growth with stability, which characterized their predecessors’ regime, to better governance in the social fields, with emphasis on the rural sector. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Cadres of the CCP will implement the policies declared efficiently. The Party’s strength has now grown to over 80 million members.  Entrenched and vested interests working in tandem with the Party and bureaucracy could obstruct the implementation of the attempted reforms.

In a rare interview given in 2000 Xi Jinping recalls his difficult youth as a “princeling”, whose father was rusticated during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. He was sent down to the countryside, where he was slow to adapt to the situation. By hard work and sympathy for the poverty ridden rural folk, he earned their goodwill and was sent up for higher University education. After joining the Party his first duties were in a backward rural area of Fujian Province, where through consensus building he was able to have some basic projects implemented in communications, irrigation etc.  As head of the Zhejiang Province many years later he introduced many measures in the social fields. From these few glimpses of his past, it is evident that he did not depend purely on his parentage or patronage for his ascent in the Party hierarchy. From 2007 when he became a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, he has clearly served a long period during which the rise of China has had its shine dimmed by the loss of credibility of the Party, a prevailing air of political cynicism, and the costs which need to be paid by previous models of growth.

The challenges in the domestic field posed by the need to restructure the export dependent model and implement reforms in the political, social, legal and rural fields would require the attention of the new regime.  There are also various foreign policy issues.  USA’s decision to pivot to Asia, to strengthen military alliances where they exist and to enlist friends who could compliment and work with the US Navy to protect the oceanic commons, from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific, is seen as an overt response to the rise of China. An expansive definition of what constitutes Chinese maritime sovereignty and territorial security has brought China into conflict with Japan, and countries of the ASEAN   grouping. These assertive actions serve to underpin more strongly a desire for insurance  through  enhanced US presence  in the Asia-Pacific region. The balancing of diplomatic interests in maintaining good relations with neighbors with strong nationalistic sentiments over Chinese sovereignty claims is an issue which faces China. Major shifts of approaches are required by the new leadership in China: a move away from the heavy emphasis on stability which made the regime risk averse in carrying out domestic reforms and  more realistic view of what are the reasonable security perimeters in China’s neighborhood. 



Ambassador C.V. Ranganathan,
Former Indian Ambassador to China Chairman of the Board, CSC IITM
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