The next 12 months will be a critical period for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the top leadership prepares to step down and hand over the reins next year.
It will be no less critical for Vice-President Xi Jinping, named last year to head a new generation of CCP leaders who will take center stage at the 18th national party congress.
No political succession takes place without intense power jockeying, and the CCP will have its fair share.
When Xi was named a vice-chairman of the party’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) last year, the appointment virtually sealed his status as China’s top leader-in-waiting.
But there are a couple of people who could make his ascendancy a rocky one.
Foremost is the man he will be succeeding: Hu Jintao. Their relationship did not quite get off on the right foot.
Xi, who was not Hu’s choice as successor, did not hide his political allegiance to Jiang Zemin, who was Hu’s predecessor. When he made his maiden visit to Germany last October, he conveyed Jiang’s regards to Chancellor Angela Merkel when they met.
In a speech at the start of the academic year at the elite Central Party School last September, he declared that “power comes from the people,” or quan wei min shuo fu.
Neither incident went down well with Hu, who propounded the “Three People’s Principles” ― namely, exercise power for the people, show concern for the people, and work for the people’s interests.
Former Communist Party propaganda chief Zhu Houze had in 2003 suggested adding “power comes from the people” as a fourth principle, which infuriated Hu. The 72-year-old Zhu was subsequently placed under house arrest for almost a year. He died in May last year.
It remains unclear whether Hu will relinquish all three top posts: party secretary, state president and CMC chairman.
He could legitimately occupy the CMC chair for another two years, just as his two previous predecessors had done.
There was speculation that in the early years after he became CCP chief and China’s President, Hu had to consult or defer to Jiang on policy matters. So it is to be expected that Xi would have to do the same.
But some observers noted that unlike Jiang and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping, Hu does not wield much influence over the military.
During his tenure from 1989 to 2004, Jiang promoted 79 generals, a number that translates into sizeable support in the military. In contrast, Hu has promoted only 22 since 2004.
Whether he can muster enough support in the military to remain as CMC chair therefore remains unclear.
Apparently not taking any chances, Jiang recently asked that his name not be included, right beneath Hu’s, at important events such as National Day celebrations. The name order reflects the influence he wields even though he no longer holds any official posts.
Many saw the request as intended to prevent Hu from becoming the No. 2 man when he formally steps down next year. With Hu out of the way, Xi will have a freer hand to govern and consolidate his power.
Apart from Hu, Xi faces a potentially strong rival in Bo Xilai, the Communist Party boss of Chongqing municipality who is riding a wave of popularity.
Bo, who like Xi is a ‘princeling’ or offspring of communist elders, has built a personality cult by promoting the so-called ‘red heritage.’ This means reinstating the ‘revolutionary spirit’ during the legendary Long March times.
Highly ideology-laden, the red heritage movement won Bo tremendous support nationwide, both from die-hard Maoists and from those who felt marginalized by Deng’s reform and open door policy.
Chongqing was named ‘the happiest city’ in China, according to a Dec. 26 national survey conducted by the Annual Report on the Urban Development of China.
The organizing committee listed the city’s accomplishments, from singing revolutionary songs and cracking down on crime to improving the city and showing concern for people’s living conditions.
Bo’s image and popularity skyrocketed as a result.
His supporters saw his ‘Chongqing model’ as an alternative to Deng’s model for China’s economic and political development.
Politburo Standing Committee members Li Changchun and Zhou Yongkang, who are in charge of ideology and legal affairs respectively, openly endorsed Bo and his model.
To Xi, all this underlined the potential challenge Bo could pose.
Small wonder that the first city Xi visited after becoming CMC vice-chairman was Chongqing, where he openly expressed support for Bo and his Chongqing model.
A source said that by bonding with Bo, Xi hopes to co-opt him into an alliance and at the same time minimize any risk of a challenge that Bo might pose later.
By Ching Cheong
(The Straits Times)
(Asia News Network)