Friday, July 19, 2013

Chinese President Xi Jinping - A Man for the Times

In one of the first signs that major change is underway in China the following stories note the drastic change I the approach of the new Chinese President Xi Jinping as he takes control of the massive Chinese government institutions.

Xi to Politburo - Shape Up and Make Clean Break from Past!

By Russell Leigh Moses

After telling the lower ranks of the Communist Party to shape up and make a clean break from past practice, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has taken aim at a new target:  the Party leadership itself.

And he’s done so with authority and openness from the highest pulpit of politics in China–the Politburo, the very place where the senior leaders sit and make policy.

In a speech at the conclusion of a three-day special meeting that was covered across Party media and took up nearly half of the evening newscast on Tuesday evening, Xi proclaimed that senior members of the Party needed “to play an exemplary role,” and that they had to be “broad-minded enough to reject any selfishness…to adhere to self-respect, self-examination and self-admonition” in their work in Chinese.

It’s extremely rare for Politburo proceedings to be spoken of in such detail and openness.  And it’s unprecedented in modern times for the Party boss to start taking swings at his colleagues at the top by so directly reminding them of their responsibilities—a move that suggests he might be planning something even stronger soon.

Having just admonished lower-level cadres in a salvo last week, some observers might think that Xi is simply putting on a show here. After all, it’s difficult to demand improvement in the work-styles of the rank and file without at least paying lip-service to the idea that those at the top could stand to do a little better themselves.

But the tone of Xi’s comments and the play they’ve received in the state media suggest this is far more than just rhetorical window dressing.  It wasn’t enough for high officials to “strictly abide by party discipline and act in strict accordance with policies and procedures,” Xi said. Those at the top must also “strictly manage their relatives and their staff and refrain from abuse of power.”

“The sole pursuit” of senior members of the Party, Xi insisted, should be tied to “the Party’s cause and interests” – in other words, “to seek benefits for the Chinese people as a whole.”

Whether it’s misuse of official license plates or the high-end looting of state assets, Xi knows that corruption is not always confined to lower-level cadres.

Xi was careful to concede that there have been some positive developments in the ways by which the Politburo and other Party bodies operate, such as “improvements in research and reporting.”  Meetings have been shortened and presentations streamlined, “enhancing the majority of party members’ and cadres’ sense of purpose, as well as the view of the masses” towards the Party leadership, he noted.

But it’s clearly morality at the top — not the way that decisions are made — that concerns Xi and his allies the most.   As Xi’s speech noted, “as long as Politburo comrades always and everywhere set an example, they can continue to call the shots, for that will have a strong demonstration effect, and the Party will be very powerful.”

But Party leaders “must follow their own strict requirements first.”

Xi’s reprimand seems to imply that some of them are not.  His predecessors talked about the general threat to Party rule from the evils of corruption; but in nearly every case they chose to scold officials in the abstract, instead of smacking them around.  As with so many other efforts, Xi’s being different.

Indeed, such comments raise the very real possibility that Xi has someone specific in mind – that he could be about to strike against one or more of the conservatives who populate the Politburo and who might be standing in the way of further reforms.

Whatever form the next round of fighting takes, Xi and his reformist colleagues are clearly interested in creating a fresh sort of politics, even at the very top of the system.  This is risk-taking and resolution of a high order–and it brings a real political showdown with opponents of Xi’s brand of reform all the closer.


 The Path to the Top of Chinese Politburo

Western politicians may have ups and downs in their careers, facing various obstacles like campaigning, raising funds, and another concept foreign to Chinese politicians: elections.

China’s top brass, however, deal with a different path to the top, one that may take longer but appears far steadier. The seven men who make up its Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, an exclusive group that sits at the top of the country's hierarchy, took 38 years, on average, to get there and followed a pretty linear path, as illustrated by the curves in the above graph.

Contrast that with the political career of U.S presidents Barack Obama (11 years in public office before being elected to the White House); George W. Bush (five years); and Bill Clinton (13 years) -- none of them spent more than one-third of the time in office it takes a Chinese politician to reach the top.  

For the most part, as previously described here, and translated in the above image, climbing the ranks of the Party is pretty formulaic; if you pay your dues at lower level positions and excel, promotion to high office becomes more of a formality. Yet, the seven men at the top still displayed exceptional characteristics. 

China’s current president, Xi Jinping, had the fastest ascent to power, going from the political bottom rung to leading the world’s second-biggest economy in 28 years -- but his rise, while fast, is pretty steady, as the curve shows.  Xi’s major contribution to creating the Special Economic Zones and economic liberalization is what propelled him to top-level politics. Xi’s military background, serving the minister of Defense early on, also made him a standout nominee for the presidency.

China’s Vice President, Li Keqiang, also experienced a relatively quick rise, but rose much faster early in his career. Li rose from a municipal leadership position, to a provincial level position, to a provincial deputy minister position, in just four years, becoming the youngest provincial governor at the age of 43, when he was appointed to lead Henan. This jump took China’s president twice the time to achieve.  Many attribute Li’s quick rise to power to efforts he made leading an economic development project in Henan, transforming poor areas in the province into profitable, investment-attractive cities.

In addition, most of the standing committee members have held positions in the Chinese Communist Youth League, considered one of the best ways to land on a fast-track in Chinese politics and has a reputation for cultivating top-level caliber leaders. Li Keqiang, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang and Li Yuanchao were all part of the Youth League at some point in their careers.

No comments: