18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China began

What to expect.

Questions:

1. If you look at the process of picking up new leaders would you stay that it will continue that way in the future?

2. Is it anything what comes to your mind what would you consider as a surprise related to Congress?

Answers:

Jackie SheehanAssociate Professor in Contemporary Chinese Studies and Deputy Head of School, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham

1. There has been some discussion of making the selection of the top CCP bodies (the Politburo and its Standing Committee) more democratic, in a limited CCP sense of the term, by having more candidates than there are places to be filled, may be as many as 20% more, and an election, even though it would be with only top leaders entitled to vote and behind closed doors. But they have also banned discussion of Vietnam and Burma, which both have introduced that kind of system for selecting the top leadership, so they still seem nervous about even that degree of reform.

The candidates who make it to the top, the Politburo Standing Committee, are largely chosen for negative rather than positive reasons – they haven’t presided over any scandals or made major mistakes, and are seen as a safe pair of hands. Opening up the process with more choice might allow some of the more energetic reformers, like Wang Yang from Guangdong, to move up, but not everyone would welcome that, in case it destabilised the system.

2. I think within the next ten years the one-child policy will probably be phased out. China has an ageing population now, and a lot of the recent labour unrest, e.g. at Foxconn and Honda, is because workers are getting much more assertive as they don’t have to accept whatever pay and conditions are on offer, but can shop around for jobs. More of them are men, too, whereas ten or twenty years ago many young women were migrating to work in the factories – but the one-child policy has created a surplus of rural men. The seemingly endless supply of cheap labour from the countryside has run out, and phasing out restrictions on family size will be part of coping with the demographic transition. But I’d be surprised if any definite statement was made at the Congress about ending the restrictions.

They will talk about tackling corruption a lot and may directly refer to the Bo Xilai case, but any move to do something really effective about corruption, such as encouraging a freer media or a more independent judiciary, or establishing some sort of independent anti-corruption commission like Hong Kong’s, or even making top leaders disclose their assets, would be a surprise.

They’re actually hailing the Bo Xilai case as a success of their anti-corruption measures, when if his wife hadn’t committed murder, he would almost certainly still be in the running for the top level. And if he hadn’t been caught, they would still be calling the anti-corruption campaign a success.

Having a woman on the Politburo Standing Committee for the very first time would be a surprise, also, but the only candidate, Liu Yandong, is really just like all the men – she gets on well with all the factions, hasn’t done anything terrible that we know about, and is a safe pair of hands – so she’s very unlikely, even if she gets on to the Standing Committee, to do much for Chinese women, who are still very disadvantaged in employment and also suffer very high levels of domestic violence.

Jane Duckett, Professor, Director of both the Scottish Centre for China Research and the Confucius Institute, University of Glasgow

1. I can’t see any indication that it will change although it might be that there is a little more competition (in the sense of more candidates than places on the Politburo) in the future. But it seems unlikely that there will be a shift to popular election of top party leaders.

2. I think it is interesting that the CCP has managed to institutionalise a process of leaders having positions for only two terms. This is a good step toward preventing an individual dictatorship (like DPRK). Obviously the surprise this year for the Congress was the Bo Xilai case, which no-one expected and is unprecedented in the last 30 or more years of Chinese politics.

Jonathan Holslag, Research Fellow, Institute of Contemporary China Studies, Vrije University, Brussels

1. I don’t think this opaque process of selecting new top leaders will change in the next decade or so. Leaving it to the preferences of the thousands of congress members or even the Central Committee is deemed too divisive and too risky. What might make a slight change in the very long term, is that more and more candidates from the provinces have passed via slightly more competitive elections. This could add to the diversity of the Party and probably make the next generations of leaders a bit less uncomfortable with more bottom-up influence.

2. I don’t expect much surprises from the Congress. What I do anticipate is a lot of indirect criticism on the 10 years rule of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Many party members consider it as a lost decade. It was a period of relative stability, but it was not seized to secure China’s growth and prosperity in the long run.

Bruce JacobsProfessor of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University

I don’t expect much change in the Chinese system other than the change of those in leadership positions. However, I don’t believe there will be much change in Chinese policies. The system will go forward pretty much as in the past. The CCP will look after itself. It will look after rich people in China. It will continue to exploit poor people even though it will also make an effort to keep employment up. I do not expect much progress to be made on the environmental front. And, I don’t expect much change in foreign policy. The Chinese will continue to push and probe and to exploit the poor countries of the world which have resources. In this sense, the CCP is running an imperialist nation which engages in colonialism.

Kerry BrownExecutive Director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney

1. I guess that if the selection process works well it will offer a great precedent, for next time. If it doesn’t, then I guess its back to the drawing board!

2. For surprises, I guess, if it happens, a reduction from 9 to 7 of the standing committee, and then the various issues around Bo Xilai. But I guess in terms of it being highly controlled it has been predictable. Everyone will be relieved when its over!!

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