Infighting among leaders of the Chinese Communist Party has never ceased, either in war time or peace time. Each faction claims itself to be true to the party. Mao Zedong once analyzed this inner-party conflict as ¡°the conflict between capitalism and socialism, and the conflict between the left and the right,¡± others have generalized it into the ¡°fight for power.¡± Whatever the logic or rationale behind the factions, the party always follows the winner. The National Party Congress only marks a milestone for those who triumph.
Who, then, is the winner of the 18th National Party Congress? Although Xi Jinping ascended to the positions of General Secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, it is still too early for him to claim victory due to institutional reasons. There is not enough time for him to build up his own political base.
However, it is more unreasonable to state that Hu Jintao was the winner. His ¡°scientific view on development¡± only remains a format despite having been praised as an ideological guideline. Moreover, as it turned out from the new politburo standing committee arrangement, his back-ups have all collapsed except for Li Keqiang, who was lifted up to membership five years ago.
The Marrow of Tradition
The power of ¡°former core leader¡± Jiang Zemin remains paramount behind the scenes of the new politburo standing committee. Xi himself was promoted five years ago as the candidate for General Secretary with the support of Jiang¡¯s clique, replacing Hu¡¯s preferred choice of Li Keqiang. Other heads this year, including Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhensheng and Liu Yunshan, were all appointed by Jiang into the standing committee ten years ago. Each of Zhang Gaoli¡¯s promotions have also been taken care of by Jiang. Wang Qishan, who is regarded as a follower of former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, surely has a closer relationship with Jiang than with Hu.
Although Jiang seems to be the winner from these arrangements, there is no essential difference between Jiang and Hu. Both of them advocate the same political route and represent traditional political conservatism.
Strictly speaking, the 18th Party Congress marks the victory of the political conservatism enshrined by Chinese elites, and the failure of those inner party members who yearned for reform. It is the failure of the progressive forces in China.
Rejecting Political Reform
Hu Jintao¡¯s political reports have shed light on the conservatism of Chinese political elites by formulating the concept of ¡°upholding the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics.¡± In other words, they refuse to proceed with political reforms based upon the principles of checks-and-balances common in democracies. Though the 18th Party Congress did mention political reform, all it has presented are old clich¨¦s of ¡°the system of the People¡¯s Congress,¡± ¡°consultative democracy¡±, and ¡°grassroots democracy,¡± which invariably replaced real ¡°political reform¡± with institutional and administrative reform under pretexts. On the contrary, democratic political systems were rebuked as ¡°an evil way to defect from the current course.¡±
Obviously, factions inside the party present a mostly united front against political reform, despite their unprecedented fight for power and interests this time. The political consensus was absolutely not built upon consideration for the benefit of the nation, but upon their intentions to maintain their profits accumulated throughout the years.
Such has been the consensus that Chinese politicians peeled off a cautious conservatism from an outgoing Bo Xilai right after they thwarted Bo¡¯s maneuvering for promotion. Chinese political leaders found safe political excuses to proceed with conservatism without Bo.
Incubated from marketization and centralization, the ¡°socialism with Chinese characteristics¡± has boosted economic growth to record-breaking speed, but has also witnessed unprecedented political decay and social conflicts. It will be nigh impossible to attempt to solve these problems inside the current political system, which is the least to expect for those who still count on the new leadership.
As a matter of fact, even if there is a Chinese leader in the future who is truly dedicated to political reform, he will more likely be abandoned by the elitist clique rather than working with them to push forward political reform.
Translator: Xiaoyuan Li
Xiaoyuan Li is a current intern for the China Program at The Carter Center.
Editor: Andrew Dirks
Original Author: Dr. Zhang Wei
Original Publication Date: November 20, 2012