In the run-up to the anticipated inauguration of a new politburo during the 18th National Party Congress scheduled for September, major leadership changes are already taking place at the provincial level to ensure a smooth transition
This year looks to be one of worldwide leadership change, or at least challenge, with 59 countries set to either hold general elections, including the United States, India and France, or internally change their top leadership. In China, seven of the nine standing members of the CPC Central Committee or politburo, China’s cabinet, are tipped for replacement, including General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) President Hu Jintao, and Premier Wen Jiabao. New leaders are expected to be formally inaugurated at the 18th National Congress of the CPC in the fall of 2012.
In preparation for the Party congress, personnel changes in the leadership of the CPC’s provincial-level standing committees are already taking place to ensure a smooth transition for the country’s new leaders. Provincial-level standing Party committees wield considerable power, and usually have 13 members each, headed by the Party secretary of the province or region. These committees are subject to rotation every five years, with reshuffles timed according to the Party congresses in Beijing. According to Party regulations, personnel changes at the provincial level must be implemented before the CPC national congress begins.
Starting in early 2011, provincial-level Party committees in 14 of China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions began their customary reorganization. Only three provinces (Hebei, Yunnan and Tibet) changed their Party secretaries, indicating that maintaining stability amongst China’s top provincial leaders is a top priority for Beijing in the run-up to the national congress. Aside from Anhui and Henan provinces, where five and four members of the Party standing committees were replaced respectively, all other provincial-level Party standing committees had no more than three members replaced. Compared to 2010, when more than 20 top provincial posts were reassigned, there were few new faces at the top level of provincial government as China entered 2012.
“This reflects the central authority’s intention to ensure stability in the countdown to the 18th National Congress of the CPC,” Professor Bai Zhili, vice-director of the Management School of Peking University, told NewsChina.
Out With The Old
One trend which has been observed in provincial Party committees in recent years is the appointment of younger officials to high-level leadership positions. A notable peculiarity of this spate of reshuffles is that new leaders in border regions tend to be much younger than those in coastal and inland provinces. Among the present Party standing committee members in border areas, 46.5 percent in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia were under 52 years old. This ratio falls to 27.6 percent in five central provinces (Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Jiangxi and Hunan) and to 13.2 percent in the four municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing). In China’s southern economic powerhouse, Guangdong Province, none of the provincial Party standing committee members are younger than 52.
According to Professor Wang Yukai from the Chinese Academy of Governance, governing far-flung and restive border regions inhabited by various ethnic groups is seen as both risky and labor-intensive, requiring a delicate balance of law and order and economic growth, a task perceived as better suited to young, vigorous officials. Fan Yiyang, 51, a new Party standing committee member in Inner Mongolia, studied crisis management at Georgetown University. His appointment comes in the wake of a series of protests staged in 2011 by ethnic Mongolian herdsmen opposed to unregulated mining by Han migrants on their grazing lands.
Gloomy prospects for growth in 2012 have meant that leaders’ economic credentials are also a consideration, with most of the outgoing Party old guard being replaced with technocrats rather than the traditional engineers and scientists. Huang Wei, 50, a new Party standing committee member in Xinjiang, is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and has previously served as vice-minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. Chen Quanguo, 56, newly appointed Party secretary of Tibet, who has previously served as Party secretary of Hebei and Henan provinces, holds a Master’s degree in economics. Their appointment is widely considered a response to the call for economic development in Xinjiang and Tibet.
Wang added that appointing promising young officials to these challenging regions is also intended to help them gain more credentials and experience in coping with complex situations, which are required for future promotion. This is reflected in the career of General Secretary Hu Jintao. Before becoming a politburo member and, eventually Party general secretary, Hu had served as Party secretary of Guizhou and Tibet, two impoverished regions with large ethnic populations.
For Professor Bai Zhili, the appointment of Chen Quanguo as Party secretary of Tibet may also indicate closer cooperation between governments in Tibet and Xinjiang in the future. Both Chen and Zhang Chunxian, Party secretary of Xinjiang, are from central Henan, giving similar backgrounds. Both regions face challenges of economic development and local grievances stemming from ethnic and religious issues.
Others argue that these appointments reflect the central government’s approach of swapping officials between different provinces, especially between those with different conditions, for the purpose of both building credentials and preventing them from establishing a power base in one province. Notable examples in 2010 were Hu Chunhua, who was relocated from Hebei to serve as Party secretary of Inner Mongolia, and Zhang Chunxian, transferred to Xinjiang as Party secretary from Hunan. In 2011 Chen Quanguo and Zhang Qingli, were transferred to top leadership posts in Tibet and Xinjiang from eastern provinces.
According to Professor Wang, we are more likely to see major leadership changes at the provincial level in 2012 than in 2011 as Party committees in China’s remaining 17 provinces and municipalities, including the crucial Beijing and Shanghai areas, put off reshuffles until after Chinese New Year on January 23. “Personnel changes in these places are more directly connected to the change in the central leadership, and are therefore more significant,” Wang told NewsChina.
While it is all but certain who will be appointed to China’s top leadership in the fall of 2012, few will envy them their influential new position. They will certainly be challenged by a host of complex and perplexing problems ranging from an economic slowdown to growing calls for sweeping political reforms at all levels of society.
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Badeling Pass | Beijing
Sep 2011 | Submitted by Brian Snelson
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