Anybody who predicts what the next Standing Committee and the Politburo will be is almost certain to be wrong ! This is why most newspaper columnists are content with naming possible candidates and leaving it at that. This blogger does not care if he is proved wrong or even as a fool. There are no consequences to getting it dead wrong. So here’s my prediction what’s going to happen !
There are only two near certainties in this political game. One is that Xi Jinping will continue as Secretary of the Communist Party, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and as the President. The second is that Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zengsheng, Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli will retire from the Standing Committee . Everything else is up for grabs.
Two of the key moves that is the subject of much speculation is what will happen to Li Keqiang the current Premier (most views are that he will stay on as Premier) and that of Wang Qishan (Xi’s ally in the anti corruption drive, but who is crossing the informal retirement age of 68).
My guess is that Li Keqiang will be pushed out and Wang Qishan will replace him as the Premier. This is not considered likely today and if it happens, will be radical and unexpected. If it indeed does happen, it will indicate that Xi has taken total control of the Party. My reasoning is that Li has been a disappointment as Premier with his management of the economy, his key job. He will also carry the can for the stock market troubles of 2015. Li belongs to the Youth League faction which has been systematically defanged. There is precedence in China of the Premier being replaced – Li Peng giving way to Zhu Rongji in 1998. Wang Qishan , as we have seen in earlier posts, is the de facto No 2 in China today. He is an expert on the economy and if he were to be appointed Premier, he will be Xi’s trusted lieutenant in the soft landing of the economy that is a big imperative for China. This will mean Xi is bending the retirement rule – something I am guessing he will do as a strawman for his own options 5 years from now when he will face this retirement rule himself.
I think Li Zhanshu is a shoo in for the Standing Committee. He is currently the Director of the General Office of the Party and is a right hand man of Xi. Stacking the Standing Committee with his people will be a primary objective of Xi.
There is a good chance that Wang Yang, currently Vice Premier will be elevated to the Standing Committee. He is not a Xi loyalist and was potentially a candidate for the Standing Committee even the last time around. He is however efficient and strong and has quelled his reformer (read political) instincts. He has kept his head low over the last five years and for sheer ability is likely to rise.
Another likely name is Wang Huning. He is currently the head of the central policy research office. A non controversial choice who doesn’t belong to any faction. A theoretician whom Xi seems to rely on and is often seen on Xi’s overseas trips as an important adviser.
If Xi is in total control of the Party and has not needed to cut any deals, then this is the likely Standing Committee – cut down to five members . Xi Jinping, Wang Qishan, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang and Wang Huning.
If Xi however decides to stay with a seven member standing committee, then the two additional names, would be as my guess, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng. Both are “senior” but not powerful and therefore likely to simply make up the numbers and duly nod their heads to anything Xi says.
If my prediction is even 75% right, then it is clear that Xi is all powerful. None of these members can be a potential successor to Xi and it will also indicate that Xi is preparing to stay on after 2022 as he hasn’t groomed a successor unlike what his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao did.
Just as important as who gets in, is who doesn’t get in. The disappointed persons would be
– Li Keqiang, the current Premier. He would be the biggest casualty if he were to fall. If he doesn’t get dropped, Xi is just being cautious not to make too many changes. Li’s power will continue to wane and he will, at best be a bureaucrat continuing to run the economy. Real decisions will made by Xi.
– Hu Chunhua, the current party chief of Guangdong. He is of the next generation and had been touted as a potential successor to Xi even five years ago. He has recently been making noises pledging loyalty to Xi. His elevation to the Standing Committee will mean he is the clear front runner next time around. His non inclusion will be a strong signal that Xi intends to stay on even after 2022.
– Chen Min’er, current party chief of Chongqing. He was just brought in there to replace the disgraced Sun Zhengcai, a potential successor to Xi who fell in a power struggle. Chen is a staunch Xi loyalist. Its unlikely that he would be nominated, but if he were, it would be a clear signal that he would take over from Xi at least nominally in 2022, while Xi holds real power from the backroom.
A team like the one I have predicted will mean the following for China
– Xi Jinping is all powerful. He will start to acquire Mao like cult status. It is only hoped that he wouldn’t unleash horrors on the country as Mao did.
– The Party will become even more ruthless in suppressing dissent. Personal freedoms will be even more curtailed and censorship will worsen.
– The economy will be managed efficiently. Economic troubles will come but they will be managed as best as could be.
– On foreign policy China will become increasingly belligerent and muscular. They will be difficult to deal with diplomatically and might pick up fights with other countries. The current US administration will constantly lose on anything they pick up with China.
– The anti corruption drive and the defanging of political opponents will intensify. Xi might however face a challenge when Jiang Zemin dies. Major political activity tends to happen when somebody important dies. The two major upheavals in China happened in 1976 after Zhou Enlai died and more famously in 1989 when Hu Yaobang died which led to the Tiananmen incidents. Jiang is nowhere near as liked as Zhou or Hu were, but it may be a trigger for old timers and those who had lost out in the Xi era to maybe flex their muscles.
– Xi will stay on post 2022 and will be the main power for at least another decade. He will install one of his men as the General Secretary, but will stay on as the Chairman of the CMC and wield real power. He may even be appointed Chairman of the Party, a post that was abolished after Mao.
How wrong I am would be revealed in the days after October 18th when the line of 5 or 7, which I alluded to in the first sentence of this series of posts will walk in and be introduced. Even if I am 50% right, I will lay claim to being a “Zhōng guó tōng” (China expert) !
Enough of politics. This blog will go back to plodding on business and economic matters. It will return briefly to China and politics when the actual line up is announced in end October.