Meet The 13 Mysterious Politicians Rapidly Rising To Power In China

chinese leaders

Photo: Mamta Badkar / Business Insider

Bo Xilai’s dismissal a few weeks ago took away the face of China’s Chongquing model of socioeconomic development.And in a year of political transition, his replacement by Zhang Dejiang, a former Guangdong party secretary is not insignificant. 

But some like Moody’s analyst Alaistair Chan do not think the Chongking model is dead yet.

In an email interview, Chan said the government is in no rush to reverse changes that Bo brought about. Bo allowed rural Chinese populace to swap farmland for urban dwellings, boosted the social safety net, and cracking down on crime. But his absence has made room for more candidates in China’s nine-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) – the most important decision-making body in China.

Click here to see the candidates >
The make-up of the PSC will have major implications on China’s economic priorities and foreign policy among other things. With seven of nine members including president Hu Jintao and premiere Wen Jiabao stepping down because of age restrictions, the PSC will be ruled by relative newcomers. 

As of now Xi Jinping, who is slated to become the next president, is expected to retain his seat, as is Li Keqiang, who is expected to be China’s next premiere. Zhang according to Chan is a transitional leader until Beijing figures out its next move.

“If he makes it to the Politburo it will be an implicit endorsement of his model,” Chang said. “That said, the biggest impact is likely to be that future aspirational leaders will be less populist and more consensus minded and team-playing.”

Many are also turning their attention to Guangdong party chief Wang Yang who was in competition with Bo for a spot on the PSC. Before Bo’s dismissal five current PSC members visited Chongking and essentially endorsed the Chongking model of socioeconomic development. But premiere Wen Jiabao’s press conference which warned of a coming cultural revolution and Bo’s absence leave the door wide open for Wang’s Guangdong model, which calls for economic liberalness and political openness, to take hold.

We drew on Cheng Li’s report for The Washington Quarterly and put together the 13 candidates most likely to secure a spot in the PSC and highlighted their current position, background, and their policy priorities and preferences. Moreover, departing members tend to try and exert their influence through the next set of leaders according to Cheng, a tendency which will also play a huge part in determining the members of the PSC.

Remember, no one expects the political transition to be smooth. In fact, until 2002 every leadership change was accompanied by some degree of violence. “So 2002 was relatively smooth but was almost certainly still riven with faction fighting,” said Nomura’s senior political analyst Alastair Newton in an email interview. “The difference now is that in 2002 it was all behind closed doors whereas in 2012 (in significant part thanks to Bo Xilai) some of it is in the public domain (albeit possibly still only the tip of the iceberg). I reckon there will now be a concerted effort to paper of the cracks in public and present again a facade of unanimity.”

Note: The number of seats on the PSC is not fixed and could increase beyond nine. 

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

Wang Qishan

Zhang Dejiang

Current position: Politburo member, vice premier

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

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 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

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

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

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

Liu Yuanshan

Current position: Politburo Member, head of CCP propaganda dept

Policy priorities: Liu Yuanshan 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

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

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

Ling Jihua

Current position: Member of secretariat, CCP general office head

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

Hu Chunhua

Current position: Inner Mongolia party chief

Policy priorities: Hu Chunhua wants policies in favour of social justice and economic equality. He also wants government accountability, and tougher measures on corruption.

Background: Hu is part of the Tuanpai and is part of the sixth generation of leaders who were born in the 60s. If the Chinese top leadership chooses to select a leader for the PSC from beyond the fifth generation, Hu would be a top candidate.

Source: Cheng Li for The Washington Quarterly

But China isn't the only country with a leadership change this year...

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