Thursday, March 23Welcome

20th Party Congress Leaders Lineup

China’s political clock is speeding toward the opening of the 20th Party Congress. It is no surprise that both the Chinese public and the overseas China-watching community will pay close attention to the line-up of leaders announced after the conference. So far, there have been no leaks of any material information regarding this upcoming leadership change.

In previous party congresses from the Deng era onwards, the norms of ensuring representation of competing factions and enforcing mandatory retirement provided some clues about the composition of the supreme leader. However, the election of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) this time is largely determined by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The previous norms and rules no longer apply. Understanding Xi’s objectives and concerns is therefore important when analyzing China’s leadership.

In his first two terms, Xi Jinping consolidates power at a remarkable pace and scale, and now has the most authority and influence within the party system since Deng (if not since Mao). Still, Mr. Xi still faces three “difficulties” (Nandian) in determining personnel appointments at the highest echelons of power. This is part of Xi’s call for leadership to unite as China faces what he calls “unprecedented” (qiansuoweiyou) Because of his long-term consideration of the inevitable political succession at Zhongnanhai, the central headquarters of the Communist Party of China.

Difficulty 1: Recruiting newcomers to the Politburo Standing Committee

Xi needs to vacate at least three seats, and perhaps four, in the current PSC, especially for the so-called 6G leaders (born in the 1960s). Lee Chunshu, the eldest, will definitely resign. However, the age range of his five other members is only three years old (see Table 1). There are no objective criteria for deciding who stays and leaves.

China's Top 7 Leaders

One of the retiring PSC members is likely to serve as Vice President of the People’s Republic of China. Li Zhanshu is the leader most likely to hold this position. But what about a couple of his other mentors? Xi’s concern is not only potential backlash from the outgoing leader, but also a sense of unfairness among many others.

Difficulty 2: Ensuring Unpredictability of Possible Successors

There are no indications that Xi will choose a successor at this year’s party congress. Naturally, Xi doesn’t want to be a lame duck in his third term. The reasons for not naming his successor can be harmless. Succession candidates must be tested in a variety of leadership responsibilities and accepted by the political system and the public. This is why Xi Jinping needs to promote more than 2 of his young leaders to his PSC, or if he expands the PSC from 7 seats to 9 he has 4 to 9. It explains why you should promote to 5 people (see table 2 for candidates). If he promotes his 6G leaders only his two, the Chinese general media and the foreign media say that one leader will be Xi Jinping’s successor and another will be his five years. You’d quickly guess that he’ll be prime minister within no time.

Strong candidate for Politburo Standing Committee

Additionally, not all members of a PSC are the same. The first four positions hold higher status than the last three positions. Xi is likely to place his 5G leader (born in the 1950s) in his first four positions, and this means that in the PSC he will choose his 6G member, who ranks third, as prime minister. It may suggest that Mr. Xi is hesitant.

Difficulty 3: Choose a prime minister to set the trajectory of policy

Given Xi’s deep involvement in economics and diplomacy, the position of prime minister is less important than it used to be. Still, the prime minister can serve as the face of China. Under Chinese norms, all previous premiers first served as vice premiers (except for the first premier, Zhou Enlai). If the norm applies, he has four candidates for prime minister. Han Zheng, Hu Chunhua, Liu He, and Wang Yang (see Table 3).

prime minister candidate

Each has advantages and disadvantages. The prime minister ultimately chosen could represent Xi’s key needs and political and policy considerations. Han Zheng for policy continuity, Hu Chunhua for leadership unity, Liu He for international popularity, and Wang Yang for radical policy change. Personnel is policy, and Mr. Xi’s need to balance competing policy trajectories and political considerations is a challenge.

Future leadership announcements will show people in China and the world how President Xi Jinping intends to overcome these three challenges. Indeed, how this reshuffle will play out will allow us to more accurately assess Xi Jinping’s ability to address issues of leadership cohesion, socio-political stability, economic development and foreign policy in the coming years. I will.

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