The 12 Politicians Battling For Control Of China

chinese politicians composite

Photo: Mamta Badkar / Business Insider

The Chinese leadership transition expected to take place mid-October is fast approaching.This means we will soon know just who will be nominated to the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) – the most important decision-making body in China.

Chinese media reports have said that the PSC will be restricted to seven seats, down from nine. Senior party officials are said to have reduced the number to limit power given to those in the position of domestic security chief and the propaganda minister.

Current domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang’s ties to Bo Xilai even prompted party officials to write a letter calling for him to be fired. They also called for the sacking of propaganda minister Liu Yunshan.

Click here to meet the candidates >
The formation of the PSC is closely watched, and this year has already had its fair share of high-octane drama.

Former Chongquing chief Bo Xilai who at one point was certain to get a spot on the PSC was ousted from his position earlier this year, the first scandal.

Then Hu Chunhua, president Hu Jintao’s ally, who was expected to be a member of the PSC was appointed Chongquing party chief which is a challenging position, but is viewed as a “sideways move” rather than a promotion, according to Reuters. Moreover, two sources told Reuters that “Little Hu” is unlikely to be admitted to the PSC.

For now there are two officials who are pretty much guaranteed spots on the PSC. The first is Xi Jinping, who was rumoured sick after his two-week disappearing act and is slated to become the next president. The second is Li Keqiang, who is expected to be China’s next premiere.

The other five spots are still up for grabs.

We drew on Cheng Li’s report for The Washington Quarterly to put together a list of the most likely candidates for the PSC. We updated the list to account for political events that made the candidacy of Bo and Little Hu unlikely. While we’ve included Zhong’s successor Meng Jianzhu and Liu Yunshan both appear increasingly unlikely to make the cut as well.

The make-up of the PSC will have major implications on China’s economic priorities and foreign policy among other things. And with seven of nine members including president Hu Jintao and premiere Wen Jiabao stepping down because of age restrictions, the PSC will take on a new face that the world will be paying close attention to.

Xi Jinping

Current position: Member of Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), vice chair of central military commission (CMC) and people's republic of China vice president

Policy priorities: Xi Jinping is concerned with developing the private sector. He also wants to speed up market liberalization in foreign investment and develop Shanghai as a financial and shipping centre.

Background: Xi who is set to become the next Chinese president was promoted to the Politburo standing committee during the 2007 Party Congress. He was also the first leader not chosen through a broader polling of CPC officials, rather was chased through a polling of CPC officials.

Xi is considered a princeling since his since his father Xi Zhongxun was a former vice-premier. He is expected to retain his seat on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Li Keqiang

Current position: Member of PSC, executive vice premier

Policy priorities: Li Keqiang is pushing for the development of affordable housing, programs of basic healthcare and social welfare, and is promoting clean energy.

Background: Unlike many Chinese leaders Li Keqiang comes from a less-priveleged family. He was once a member of the Communist Youth League before he moved up and is therefore a member of the Tuanpai faction. Li was elevated to the PSC during the 2007 Party Congress and is likely to retain his position.

He is slated to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier but could also chair the National People's Congress.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Yu Zhengsheng

Current position: Politburo member, Shanghai party chief

Policy priorities: Yu Zhengsheng is in favour of promoting the private sector and urban development. He also wants rule of law, legal development and high-GDP growth.

Background: Yu is also a princeling and is a strong candidate for the PSC but he is a formidable power and Hu Jintao and other leaders of the populist coalition may try to get him to retire at the 18th Party Congress given the age limit.

Moreover, NTDTV said reports of mistresses and his alleged involvement in a $20 million embezzlement scandal tied to the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail could be a blow to his chances.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly / NTDTV

Zhang Dejiang

Current position: Politburo member, vice premier in charge of energy, telecommunications and transportation

Policy priorities: Zhang Dejiang wants to develop state-owned enterprises (SEOs), promote 'China's Go Global Strategy' and indigenous innovation.

Background: Zhang is currently serving his second term as a member of the Politburo and is therefore more likely to make the PSC. The public is however angry at Dejiang for his handling of the Wenzhou railroad accident when he ordered the bodies of victims to buried on site, NTDTV reported.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly / NTDTV

Li Yuanchao

Current position: Politburo member, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organisation dept. head

Policy priorities: Li Yuanchao is leaning towards political reforms, especially inter-Party democracy and tougher measures to crackdown on corruption. He also wants to bring back foreign-educated Chinese.

Background: Li is a princeling and was once a member of the Communist Youth League and is therefore a member of the Tuanpai faction.

He is unlikely to have a problem obtaining seats but NTDTV says his involvement in propaganda could be a setback.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly / NTDTV

Wang Qishan

Wang Yang

Current position: Politburo member, Guangdong party chief

Policy priorities: Wang Yang is in favour of changing economic growth mode, promoting intra-party democracy, media transparency and border political reforms.

Background: Wang is from the Tuanpai faction and he along with Bo Xilai earned the nickname the 'two canons' for their leadership style.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Liu Yandong

Current position: Politburo member, state councilor

Policy priorities: Liu Yandong wants greater political participation of interest groups and NGOs in political process. She also wants to promote China's cultural exchange abroad.

Background: Liu is a princeling and a part of the Tuanpai faction but her close political association with Hu Jintao and the populist coalition makes Yandong more loyal to them. But Jintao and other party leaders' attempt to keep Yu Zhengsheng out of the PSC by negotiating an age limit, might also impact her eligibility for a spot in the PSC.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Zhang Gaoli

Current position: Politburo member, Tianjin party chief

Policy priorities: Zhang Gaoli wants to see market liberalization in foreign investment, economic efficiency and high-rate GDP growth.

Background: Zhang was often considered to be competing with Wang Yang for PSC membership. He is Jiang Zemin, former president of People's Republic of China's protege. He has a conventional, less ostentation style of leadership than Bo Xilai whom he used to compete against until Xilai's dismissal. His motto: 'Do more. Speak Less.'

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Ling Jihua

Current position: Member of secretariat, head of the United Front Work Department

Policy priorities: Ling Jihua is in favour of continuing Hu Jintao's socio-economic policies.

Background: Ling is part of the Tuanpai which literally means 'league faction'. He is said to be Hu Jintao's most trusted confidant and some expected that the president will push for his two-step promotion to the PSC.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Meng Jianzhu

Current position: State councilor, minister of public security

Policy priorities: Meng Jianzhu is in favour of policies that would bring sociopolitical stability. He also wants to promote Shanghai's role as a global centre of finance and shipping.

Background: Meng Jianzhu is said to be a part of the Shanghai Gang, the name given to an informal group of officials in the communist party who gained prominence in connection to the Shanghai municipal administration under former president Jiang Zemin.

Meng is considered to be the ideal candidate to succeed his boss on the PSC but the Shanghai Gang has views that differ from current Chinese premiere Wen Jiabao and president Hu Jintao.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

Liu Yunshan

Current position: Politburo Member, head of CCP propaganda dept

Policy priorities: Liu Yunshan wants more control over the media and the internet. He also wants to promote China's soft power overseas.

Background: Liu was once a member of the Communist Youth League before he moved up and is therefore a member of the Tuanpai faction. He has worked in inner Mongolia for over 20 years.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

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