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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > November 3, 2007 > China’s 17th Communist Party Congress : An Assessment

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 46

China’s 17th Communist Party Congress : An Assessment

Saturday 3 November 2007, by Joshy M. Paul


The 17th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held in mid October (15-21), elected members to the two highest echelons of the Party, the 25-member Polit-Bureau and the Polit-Bureau Standing Committee comprising nine topmost leaders of China. It has given the mandate of Presidentship to Hu Jintao for another five-year term. The Party Congress also made amendments to the constitution to incorporate the incumbent President Hu’s theory of ‘scientific development’ that would possibly give Hu Jintao a place in the Chinese political system along with Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaopiong and Jiang Zemin.

Changes in Political Leadership of China

THE CCP holds its Party Congress every five years which elects leaders to govern China for the next half-a-decade. At the end of the 17th Congress it elected a 371-strong Central Committee (204 full members and 167 alternate members) out of which the Polit-Bureau and Polit-Bureau Standing Committee members were elected. There are 183 newcomers among the elected full members and alternate members accounting for nearly fifty percent of the decision-making body.

Seventyfive members of the CPC Central Committee are under 50 years old, with 22 younger than 45 years. A total of 37 are female and 40 are from ethnic minorities. About 92.2 per cent received at least university degrees. The Central Committee also has nine academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences or the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Four new members were elected to the Polit-Bureau Standing Committee, the ultimate decision-making body while retaining other five members including Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of the previous Committee. The surprising omission was of Zeng Qinghong, the politically powerful Vice-President and a protégé of former President Jinag Zemin, who controlled the party system for the past five years, while other two Wu Guanzheng and Luo Gan were removed because of the age factor.

The four new faces in the Standing Committee include current Shanghai party chief Xi Jinping, Liaoning provincial chief Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang, head of the Organisation Department of the party’s Central Committee for the past five years, and Zhou Yongkang, the Minister of Public Security, the top judicial and law enforcement agency. Xi’s rise has been meteoric after taking over the leadership of China’s financial hub in March 2007 who enjoyed the patronage of Jiang and Zeng and belonged to the ‘princeling’ class, which refers to the descendants of prominent and influential Communist Party members. Li is known to be an ally of Hu, and was set to emerge through the Communist Youth League which is Hu’s power base. Apart from Li, three other party officials linked to the Youth League were appointed to the Polit-Bureau, giving a boost to Hu’s power base. Both Li, 52, and Xi, 54, who were not even members of the party’s previous Polit-Bureau, are now considered the most likely candidates to take over as President and Premier following the next Communist Party Congress in 2012.

Hu was believed to have wanted Li—his right-hand man—succeed his post in the future, but the ranking and duties of Xi and Li, sixth and seventh respectively, indicate that Xi may succeed Hu after five years. However, a contention between the two for the top slot may not be excluded but Hu will call the final shot at the end of his term.

By the 17th Party Congress, however, the elderly Jiang-Zeng combination’s direct influence in the administration had begun to wane in the party but he could manage to promote his factional members to the highest level. Apart from Xi, the other two new members of the Standing Committee—He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang— are widely known to have closer ties to Jiang and Zeng than to Hu. Similarly another Zeng ally, Jia Qinglin, kept his leadership slot, despite being tainted in a financial scandal.
The constitution of the new team at the helm of Chinese Communist Party, however, indicates that Hu Jintao has not been able to emerge as the paramount leader in the Party. But he still wields the control of the Party not only because of he was re-elected to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission but all the new committees are more supportive of Hu in spite of their varied allegiance. Similarly more than half of the newly elected members to the Central Committee belong to the tuanpai faction (former Communist Youth League cadres) whose support would provide Hu decisive control over decision-making at the top level.

Amended Constitution

THE concluding session of the Congress endorsed Hu’s programmes and policies for the following years and made amendments to the Party constitution to give a new look to China. A major initiative in this regard was to incorporate Hu’s “scientific development concept” into the constitution, which involves scientific outlook on development, aiming to promote more coordinated development on the basis of social harmony, environmental protection and energy conservation in addition to economic expansion. The incorpora-tion of ‘scientific development concept’ into the constitution is definitely a boost to Hu and it will possibly be remembered in the Chinese history along with Mao’s “Thought”, Deng’s “Theory” and Jinag’s “Three Represents”.

The scientific outlook on development has emerged against the backdrop of rapid economic growth and a series of problems including excessive consumption of resources, damages to the environment and a widening gap between the rich and poor.

Similarly, China has officially allowed ‘reli-gious’ practice of its citizens and has mentioned the word “religion” for the first time in its history by making an amendment to the CPC constitution. By doing so the Party has formulated guiding efforts to strengthen the work related to ethnic and religious affairs, among others, is conducive to their full implementation and getting better results in the Party’s work in this area, said a resolution on the amendment to the constitution. China is home to 100 million religious faithful, largely Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, and Islamites. China has been wary of the emergence of secretive ‘religious fundamentalism’ in the western and interior part of the mainland that could potentially destabilise communism as well as social harmony.

Another historic event of the changes in the Party constitution is that China has sought to embrace ‘non-public’ economy in its development path. In its amendment resolution it says that the Party provides ‘unswervingly encourage, support and guide the development of the non-public sector’.
This is the first time in its history that the CPC mentioned public and ‘non-public’ sectors in the same breath in its constitution established 85 years ago when ‘private economy had been strongly repulsed as a dreg of capitalism’. Ever since China opened up its economy under Deng, the role of private participation in the development path of Chinese economy has been noteworthy, performance has outpaced the public sector.

Observers say this change “may usher in a new pattern featuring equal competition and mutual stimulation among different economic ownership and further release the vitality of subordinate non-public sectors”. But the dominant position of the public sector, represented by state-owned and state-controlled enterprises, will remain.

The move to recognise individuals from non-communist background had actually begun during the 16th party Congress in 2002 by modifying the constitution that allowed “advanced individuals from other social strata” to join the Party and the present amendment would cater to the political aspirations of the non-public industry and expand the foundation of the Party to professionals and private entrepreneurs.

The 17the Party Congress has helped Hu Jinato to continue his programme and policies for the next five years uninterruptedly by constituting the Party Committees in a balanced manner. Contrary to the previous dispensations the current leadership is vibrant, youthful and more outward oriented policy-makers who could lead China in a healthy manner in the days ahead.

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