Today’s issue looks at the close of the 19th Party Congress and the new leadership team selected at the First Plenum of the 19th Party Congress. The newsletter will return to its normal format Thursday, and apologies if this issue is a bit rambling but there is just too much too digest in one newsletter.
There is no obvious successor to Xi Jinping on the new Politburo Standing Committee and the overall Politburo is heavily weighted towards members of “Team Xi”. There should be little doubt that Xi, with a huge theoretical win in the form of his eponymous “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想” and a clear stacking of the Politburo and the Standing Committee, starts his second term as General Secretary as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.
The new Politburo Standing Committee matched the lineup predicted by The South China Morning Post. The members, their ages and likely roles (not all are announced but are usually clear):
1. Xi Jinping 习近平, 64.
2. Li Keqiang 李克强, 62. Premier
3. Li Zhanshu 栗战书, 67. Head of the NPC. Li’s jump to the number three spot in the hierarchy undermines the idea that this lineup is based on seniority-based norms
4. Wang Yang 汪洋, 62. Head of the CPPCC
5. Wang Huning 王沪宁, 62. First Secretary of the Central Secretariat, in charge of Party Work, Ideology and Propaganda
6. Zhao Leji 赵乐际, 60. Head of the Central Commission For Discipline and Inspection
7. Han Zheng 韩正, 63. Executive Vice Premier. Some other observers have Han and Wang Yang in swapped roles, though it might be strange to put the head of the CPPCC in the number seven spot in the hierarchy at a time when the Party appears to be ramping up United Front work. Slotting Han in at number seven seems to be barely giving Jiang Zemin face…
I still stand by my comments from yesterday’s newsletter:
I see this rumored group as a mix of allies and political dead-enders (readers may have noticed the hint yesterday in my comment about potted plants…) that Xi will absolutely dominate. The enshrinement signals that it is Xi’s Party and makes the question of succession while Xi is alive a moot issue. So long as Xi has not yet met Marx he is the man with an eponymous theory in the Party Constitution, which means no other official will have more authority than he does, regardless of whether Xi is Party Chairman, General Secretary, Central Military Commission Chairman or head of the China Go Association.
Now that the 19th Party Congress and its First Plenum have concluded we can get back to some semblance of normalcy, and perhaps VPNs in Beijing will work again. There has been lots of triumphant and confident propaganda and proclamations over the last week and since Xi has in place the first leadership team he selected he should be able to implement the reforms he says China needs. What exactly are those reforms, and does Xi mean what many think/thought/hope he means are key questions. We should learn much more about the intended economic reforms at the December Central Economic Work Conference.
I would not however anticipate any sharp divergence from the policies outlined over the last several years, though there should be more effective implementation. This Congress has made clear that going against Xi and his agenda is going against the Communist Party, and there are few crimes worse than that in the PRC. It has also made clear Party control over all parts of China is going to increase.
The importance of the change in the “Principal Contradiction” from the “ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people versus backward social production” set in 1981 to the Xi Era’s “between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life” should not be understated. The Party is serious about rebalancing the growth model to one that is more sustainable, greener and more equitable. Obviously there are huge challenges to that shift, and they may fail, but it is a mistake to just dismiss this as empty Marxist rhetoric.
The anti-corruption and ideological discipline crackdowns will likely continue, and at least on the ideological side may actually intensify. Xi’s language in his press conference Wednesday (CCTV Evening News-习近平在十九届中共中央政治局常委同中外记者见面时强调 新时代要有新气象更要有新作为 中国人民生活一定会一年更比一年好) was harsh:
“We must continue to rid ourselves of any virus that erodes the Party's fabric, make great efforts to foster a healthy political environment of integrity, and generate waves of positive energy throughout our Party”
At the end of his comments Xi thanked foreign reporters for their coverage of the Congress and welcomed them to travel around China and report on China’s development and changes after the 19th Party Congress. Implied in his comments was that they are welcome so long as their reporting contributes to the “positive energy” required by the Party and its propaganda organs:
The “negative energy” Financial Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the Economist and the New York Times were all denied access to the press conference, in another sign that no one should have their hopes up for any sort of loosening of the increasingly tight ideological and political environment.
Here is the list of the other Politburo members with guesses about their roles:
Ding Xuexiang 丁薛祥, 55. Head of the General Office, replaces Li Zhanshu
Wang Chen 王晨, 67. - Possibly a Vice Chairman of the NPC
Liu He 刘鹤, 65. A key architect of China’s economic policy, would be interesting as the Vice Premier to replace Ma Kai. If Liu takes that role he will likely chair the announced but so far lightly staffed Financial Stability and Development Committee. I had heard that the real ramp up of the FSDC was delayed until after the 19th Party Congress as Xi did not want Ma Kai involved. Or will Liu head the Policy Research Office?
Xu Qiliang 许其亮, 67. CMC Vice Chair
Sun Chunlan 孙春兰, 67. The only woman in the Politburo, likely to take over Liu Yandong’s Vice Premier role
Li Xi 李希, 61. Will Li go to Guangdong to replace Hu Chunhua?
Li Qiang 李强, 58. Current Jiangsu Party Secretary. Shanghai Mayor Ying Ying did not make the Politburo. Rumors have been around for a while that Li was going to replace Han Zheng as Shanghai Party Secretary. That looks very likely now that Han has moved up to the PBSC.
Li Hongzhong 李鸿忠, 61. Tianjin Party Secretary
Yang Jiechi 杨洁篪, 67. The first top diplomat to make the Politburo since Qian Qichen, probably a Vice Premier. His elevation is likely related to the more assertive global role Xi envisioned in the Congress Work Report rather than just his long experience dealing with the US.
Yang Xiaodu 杨晓渡, 64. Minister of Supervision in the 18th Party Congress. Zhao Hongzhu, the CCDI number two in the 18th Congress, was not on the Politburo, Yang’s ascension might suggest something about plans for the National Supervision Commission.
Zhang Youxia 张又侠, 67. CMC Vice-chair
Chen Xi 陈希, 64. - Likely new head of the Organization Department
Chen Quanguo 陈全国, 61. Xinjiang Party Secretary
Chen Min’er 陈敏尔, 57. Expect him to stay as Chongqing Party Secretary for a while. The place is still a political mess.
Hu Chunhua 胡春华, 54 A Vice Premier? Or Vice President, to replace the prematurely politically posthumous Li Yuanchao? That would be the ultimate irony and insult…Or is he is young enough that he will be given a more meaningful role and allowed to prove himself?
Guo Shengkun 郭声琨, 63. Likely head of the Politics and Legal Affairs Committee
Huang Kunming 黄坤明, 60. Likely Minister of Propaganda. Interesting that Liu Qibao, who is not at retirement age, is off the Politburo and his career looks over. Also interesting, and pleasing to those who had to deal with him, that Lu Wei, the first head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, currently a vice minister of Propaganda and only 57 years old, did not even make the Central Committee.
Cai Qi 蔡奇, 62. - A close Xi ally, helicoptered into Beijing and went straight onto the Politburo without stopping at the previous Central Committee.
Here is the list of members of the Secretariat of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China:
Wang Huning 王沪宁
Ding Xuexiang 丁薛祥
Yang Xiaodu 杨晓渡
Chen Xi 陈希
Guo Shengkun 郭声琨
Huang Kunming 黄坤明
You Quan 尤权, 63. Fujian Party Secretary
For those who want to go deeper, compare the English-language resolutions from the 18th Party Congress and the 19th Party Congress. The 19th Party resolution reads like a much more detailed policy document, which may in part be another indication of Xi’s vision of the Party being everywhere like air…
These resolutions should be parsed and compared in detail, but in today’s newsletter I am only going to highlight the sections on Hong Kong and Taiwan. The changes should not be comforting to most people in the SAR or on the island.
From the 18th:
The congress highlighted the need to fully and faithfully implement the principle of "one country, two systems," under which the people of Hong Kong govern Hong Kong and the people of Macao govern Macao and both regions enjoy a high degree of autonomy. We must both adhere to the one-China principle and respect the differences of the two systems, both uphold the power of the central government and ensure a high degree of autonomy in the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, and both give play to the role of the mainland as the staunch supporter of Hong Kong and Macao and increase the competitiveness of the two regions. We must adhere to the principle of "peaceful reunification and one country, two systems," consolidate and strengthen the political, economic, cultural and social foundation for the peaceful growth of the relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, open a new horizon in advancing the peaceful growth of these relations, and work with our compatriots in Taiwan to safeguard and build the common home of the Chinese nation, so as to create even better conditions for achieving peaceful reunification.
From the 19th:
The Congress stresses that, to maintain long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macao, it is imperative to fully and faithfully implement the policies of "one country, two systems," "the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong," "the people of Macao governing Macao," and a high degree of autonomy for both regions, and to act in strict compliance with China's Constitution and the basic laws of the two special administrative regions. We shall see that our compatriots in Hong Kong and Macao share both the historic responsibility of national rejuvenation and the pride of a strong and prosperous China. We must uphold the principles of "peaceful reunification" and "one country, two systems," expand economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, encourage people from both sides to work together to promote Chinese culture, work for the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations, and advance the process toward the peaceful reunification of China. We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.
Welcome to the Xi Era. Buckle Up.