China’s ‘firefighter-in-chief’ ascending

When China suffered the biggest bankruptcy of its modern era, the foreign creditors who stood to lose $4 billion went to Wang Qishan, a Communist party official, to request a government bailout. Instead, they got a lesson in laissez-faire economics. “The fundamental principle of a market economy is winners win and losers lose”. Wang’s hardline stance in 1999 after collapse of Guangdong International Trust and Investment Corporation earned him a reputation as the rarest of Chinese officials: a straight talker with a good feel for media, strong grasp of finance, a willingness to tackle thorny problems. Those qualities have made Wang, 64, a shoo-in for promotion to the standing committee of the politburo, China’s top ruling body, when the Communist party unveils its new leadership line-up later this month. Until six months ago, rumours swirled that Wang, a historian by training, might even take place of Li Keqiang, the man anointed to replace Wen Jiabao as premier. Li is now seen as having a lock on premiership, but Wang is still expected to emerge from the once-in-a-decade political transition with greatly enhanced powers. Big unknown is whether these powers will be deployed in the economic arena, which he has focused on in recent years, or whether he will be given broader political remit. Long seen as a pro-market reformer, Wang has given tantalizing hints he might also push for political reforms with a series of comments in recent months about importance of the rule of law. For now, though, Wang is less known for his ideological leanings and more for his practical side, particularly his knack for cleaning up the messes made by others, hence his nickname, “chief of the fire brigade”. His first success in this regard was Guangdong in late 1990s, when freewheeling southern province had amassed huge debts. Wang was tapped to serve as vice governor. He negotiated with foreign creditors, keeping them onside even while forcing them to accept massive losses, and oversaw a consolidation of state assets that primed province for a return to strong growth. He confronted a more dangerous crisis with 2003 Sars outbreak. The deadly virus had started to spread in Beijing and there was alarm that the city government was covering it up. The government sacked the mayor and replaced him with Wang. Wang’s first order of business was to ensure accurate reporting of deaths and illnesses. “One is one; two is two. There’s no joking when you’re at war,” exhorted local officials, speaking with characteristic bluntness. Wang was elevated to one of China’s 4 vice-premier positions in 2008, and economic affairs was added to his portfolio. That made him one of the main architects of the government’s aggressive response to global financial crisis, stimulus package that kept Chinese growth humming along even as rest of the world stumbled. Critics worry that China overdid the stimulus, leading to a pile-up of debt, but for the time being the economy remains in very good shape by international standards (…..)



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15 Responses to China’s ‘firefighter-in-chief’ ascending

  1. To outside observers, the move may appear to be little more than bureaucratic reshuffling: trim two seats from the nine-member body that governs China by consensus at the pinnacle of the Communist Party. But the proposal by Chinese leaders to downsize the body, the Politburo Standing Committee, offers one of the clearest windows available into the priorities of the party and the mechanics of power-sharing and factional struggles as the leadership transition nears its climax at a weeklong congress scheduled to open Nov. 8. The deliberations have taken place in private, in guarded compounds in Beijing and beachside villas east of the capital, but interviews with political insiders paint a portrait of party leaders pushing the change to maximize their holds on power while trying to steer the top echelons of the party away from the sclerosis and cronyism that has set in as more interests have become represented at the top. Party insiders and political analysts say party leaders, including Hu Jintao, the current party chief and president, and Xi Jinping, his designated successor, are at the moment sticking to an earlier decision to shrink the committee to seven seats, which was the number before 2002, when the committee was expanded in last-minute deal-making before that year’s party congress. “All the signs and information indicate that this time the standing committee will have seven members,” said Chen Ziming, a well-connected political commentator in Beijing who was imprisoned after the 1989 pro-democracy protests. “I think the goal is to increase the efficiency and unity at the top level. Everything is decided in meetings, and with fewer people it’s easier to reach decisions.” The committee is a group of aging men with dyed hair and dark suits who make all major decisions about the economy, foreign policy and other issues. Their meetings are not publicized in the state news media. The party chief often presides, but they operate by consensus, which means decisions are generally made only when the members reach agreement. They also must solicit the input of retired members, now more than a dozen, who at times exert considerable influence, most of all Mr. Hu’s 86-year-old predecessor, Jiang Zemin. Mr. Jiang and other elders are deeply engaged in the backstage negotiations to appoint the next generation of leaders. Members of the committee represent different patronage networks and hold different portfolios — security, propaganda, the economy and so on — which can result in competing interests. Business lobbies are represented informally on the committee, and the members often have longstanding ties to China’s powerful state-owned enterprises; for example, the current chief of domestic security, Zhou Yongkang, once managed a state-owned oil company and is known to be a defender of the oil industry. “Each of the nine wants to protect his patch,” said a political analyst connected to central party officials. Alice L. Miller, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Hoover Institution, said at a recent talk in Washington that a shrinking of the committee represents an attempt by the party to address shortcomings. “The most compelling one is that there seems to be a trend in policy stagnation,” she said, “an inability to arrive at decisions collectively within the standing committee that I think shows up in a number of different ways” (…..)

  2. Just two days after Americans elect a president, China’s Communist Party overlords will convene their 18th Congress, which will conclude a few days later when the names of the country’s next rulers will finally be made public. But though the timing of the political season in these two countries has overlapped, they could hardly be more different in style—and, judging from Chinese social media, it’s not just Americans who think their “leadership transition” is more interesting than China’s. Americans have been subjected to more than a year of nearly nonstop electioneering—the Republican primaries with their endless debates, the shifting lineup of improbable frontrunners, the attack ads, the conventions, “47 percent,” the tracking polls, Nate Silver’s projections, and the impact of Superstorm Sandy. Chinese, meanwhile, have been subjected to—mostly an official media blackout. And unlike the U.S. election, which has unexpectedly turned into a down-to-the-wire contest pitting Mitt Romney’s “momentum” against Barack Obama’s machine, the outcome here in China has never really been in doubt, at least not since October 18, 2010. That was the day the Party’s Central Committee formally named Vice-president Xi Jinping as vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission. Xi’s elevation to the commission—the body in charge of the 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army—squashed any lingering rumors of backroom palace intrigue and cemented the portly Xi’s standing as China’s president-in-waiting. So for Chinese, the only thing left to game out is the list of people who will round out Xi’s leadership team. And that decision, like the vice-president’s appointment, won’t be made by China’s 1.3 billion citizens. Neither will it be made by the 2270 delegates to the Party Congress, despite all the elaborate trappings being put in place for the conclave. Rather, the decision on who runs China will have already been made by a tiny clique of old Communists stalwarts, including the current Politburo members and a handful of of septuagenarian and octogenarian Party Grandees. Small wonder then that China’s hyperactive Internet community, known here as Netizens, is paying scant attention to the maneuverings behind the Red Curtains of power. “I don’t care!” said a Web-savy 28-year-old woman, tapping into her iPad and shaking her head dismissively, in a typical reaction. Li Datong, a journalist who was fired as an editor at China Youth Daily for exposing corruption and pushing the limits of censorship, told me; “There won’t be any surprising news coming out of the 18th Party Congress.” But China’s Netizens are intensely following this fall’s other big leadership contest, the one going on now in the United States. It offers everything the transition here doesn’t—competitive campaigns, televised and often testy debates, public participation, and, most of all, real suspense about the outcome: in short, everything that civic-minded Chinese long for (…..)

  3. (…..) Imagine if the United States were deciding Tuesday not just on a president and members of Congress — but on the size and scope of the executive branch, oversight of the military and new constitutional rules. China’s leaders are still thought to be haggling over all these issues on the eve of the party congress and behind a curtain of secrecy that feeds rumors and gossip. The coming political transition will replace most members of the country’s two key executive bodies — the standing committee of the party’s Politburo and the Central Military Commission. What’s amazing is how little even the best-informed U.S. experts know about how these personnel decisions will be made. Given China’s lack of transparency, this arcane subject is left mostly to China-watchers in and out of government. But the political stakes in Beijing this month may be as important for the world as are those in the U.S. election. Here are some of the big “ifs” that experts are following: (…..) Will the problems of corruption and patronage that exploded in the Bo Xilai scandal last February be manageable? So far, the Chinese have done a good job of containing the fallout from the purge of Bo, the charismatic former Chongqing party chief. But Li at the Brookings Institution sees a deep factional split between Hu (whose followers have roots in the Communist Youth League) and Jiang (whose elite supporters are often described as “princelings”). Jiang’s cosmopolitan supporters are said to favor continued rapid development, while the Hu group stresses party organization and domestic security to check the unrest that accompanies fast growth. Xi’s challenge will be to bridge this gap, and so far he seems to be pretty deft. He’s certainly a princeling himself (his father was one of Mao Zedong’s close advisers), but he has also built bridges to the Hu camp (…..)

  4. There wasn’t a word to be found in China last week about the story that had splashed across headlines for several days everywhere else in the world. Not a single mention was afforded the $2.7 billion (€2 billion) that the New York Times reported has been amassed by the family of outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during his time in office. But there was a brief blurb in the “Quotable” section on page two of the state-run China Daily News that quoted Ma Yun, chairman of the China’s largest e-commerce company, the Alibaba Group, saying: “A person should never try to possess both money and political power. … The two things, when brought together, are like detonating dynamite.” Ma was reportedly commenting on a book named after a 19th century business tycoon, if anyone wants to believe that. In reality, the quotation highlights how even journalists bullied by the state are finding ways to skirt censorship and speak the truth — and get the last word in on a prime minister they have had to praise for 10 long years before he retires. It also shows how difficult it will be for the new leadership to continue ruling China as its predecessors have done. On Nov. 8, two days after the United States presidential election, the 18th national congress of the Communist Party begins. The fourth generation, to which Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao belong, will be succeeded by the fifth generation of new Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping. According to the party’s plan, the change of power will remain within the unspoken contract that Mao Zedong made with the people over 60 years ago, and his successor Deng Xiaoping rewrote 20 years ago: We rule, you obey — and we’ll all get rich together, some sooner than others. In 10 years the sixth generation will take over, and in 20 years, the seventh generation will do the same. But the course of history is unlikely to take such a direct route. The tasks ahead of the new leadership are different than those that Wen and Hu faced. China’s economic growth, though still impressive at 7 percent, is slowly plateauing, while the demands of the Chinese have increased with prosperity. But above all, the once clear-cut balance of power between the leadership and the people has changed. For decades it was the people who feared the government, but now it is increasingly the case that the government fears the people. Last week, thousands protested construction on a petrochemical plant with suspect filtering facilities for four days in Ningbo, one of China’s richest cities. It was just one of countless “mass incidents” that have taken place in recent years. But the local government did something that would not have happened 10 years ago — they stopped construction and promised to reconsider the factory. The time of unfettered autocratic rule — which inspired wonder among foreign investors and was silently envied by Western politicians — is over. Ecologically questionable projects, in particular, have become more difficult today than in some democratic countries, Western businesses are now beginning to admit (…..)

  5. (…..) Designated party chairman Xi Jinping is considered a tactically skillful and moderate politician. He is unlikely to risk curbing the powers of the military or even limiting the increases in their budgets. But he is also unlikely to support any military adventures. Last week’s shakeup in the military leadership seems to suit Xi’s agenda. General Ma Xiaotian, 63, one of Xi’s confidants, who comes from a well-known family of senior party officials, was made the new head of the air force. Ma, considered to be extremely self-confident, once told a Hong Kong television station that “the Americans have no business in the South China Sea.” Allies of Bo Xilai, the former party chief in the southwestern city of Chongqing who is being accused of corruption and other crimes, have now been forced out of the military leadership. The Maoist mindset with which Bo sought to prevail against the pragmatists is also likely to fall out of favor now.

    In the 1980s, Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping had advocated international restraint for China. His principle was known as “taoguang yanghui,” which can be loosely translated to mean “hide our capabilities and bide our time”. But the times are long gone when the People’s Republic was focused solely on its domestic economy. Xi will seek to solidify China’s position as the world’s second superpower, next to the United States, using both military muscle and the tools of economic policy. China touts its efficiently capitalist single-party dictatorship as both an alternative to Western democracy and a development model, especially for Asia, Africa and Latin America.

    Unlike Washington or Berlin, Beijing expressly does not make loans and infrastructure aid conditional on human rights and good governance. It also seeks international groups in which Washington and Western Europe are not even represented, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a sort of anti-NATO. Within the SCO Beijing, together with Russia and most of the Central Asian countries, has developed strategies against the risks of terrorism. Another group far up on Beijing’s agenda is BRICS, an association of economically significant emerging economies that includes China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa. The group meets once a year. At its most recent meeting, this spring in New Delhi, it announced the formation of its own development bank to combat Western financial dominance. China is also pursuing another strategy. In these months of global uncertainty, Beijing has increasingly focused on its cultural conflict with the West. “We must clearly see that hostile foreign powers are plotting to westernize and divide China. Ideology and culture are the key areas of their infiltration,” President Hu wrote in the party organ Qiu Shi (Seeking Truth). “We should take decisive measures to protect ourselves and react.”

    Internationally, the party is betting on its own soft-power strategy. It argues that democratic institutions and the universal values preached by Western Europe are not what the world needs to recover from its problems, but rather Chinese values.

    So what, exactly, does China stand for? Aside from its spectacular economic successes of the last three decades, what does it have to offer in the way of attractive and universally applicable values that are worth emulating? Where are the ideas, and where are the personalities with which China hopes to make an impact worldwide? (…..)

  6. A recent Chinese internet meme – a catchphrase gone viral – lacerated what’s widely seen as a lame excuse for why China’s leaders have been so slow to enact political reform. The ever-sharp social media blog Tea Leaf Nation says it all started when Professor Gong Fangbing, at China’s National Defense University, wrote an essay for a People’s Daily website, arguing that the reason the Communist Party hasn’t yet embraced democracy is “largely because of insufficient preparation of theoretical backing.” He posited that the Party, despite being in power for 63 years, hadn’t developed theories to move it from a revolutionary party to a ruling party that could, maybe, eventually, share power. The responses, gathered by Tea Leaf Nation from Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, were scathing: “Now I get it. The Chinese soccer team didn’t win the World Cup because of insufficient theory,” scoffed one user. “Lunch is delayed due to insufficient theory,” tweeted another. “Due to insufficient theory, constipation continues,” wrote a third. And attorney Yuan Yulai added, “It’s only natural to conduct democratic reforms and return power to the people. If you steal something, you return it to the owner. Why does that need theoretical proof?” It’s a question that’s getting harder for the Communist Party to answer. And as the party prepares for the Nov. 8 opening of a Party Congress that will announce a new generation of leaders, a growing chorus of voices from unexpected quarters is saying political reform is long overdue. Deng Yuwen, deputy editor a newspaper put out by the Central Party School, The Study Times, has criticized President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao for having “created more problems than achievements” – by having failed to reform the system. And that was even before The New York Times came out with its exhaustively researched investigative report about the $2.7 billion it said Wen’s family has amassed in the time he’s been a senior leader. Deng, in an essay published on the website of the business magazine Caijing and promptly taken down by censors, suggested that the Chinese people and the party seem to have increasingly divergent ideas about what reform is. Deng offered his own view. “The essence of democracy is how to restrict government power; that’s the most important reason why China needs democracy so badly,” he wrote. “Over-concentration of government power without checks and balances is the root cause of so many social problems.” Among those problems, he said, is China’s growing wealth gap, with many of the wealthiest being Communist Party officials, their relatives and close friends. The 70 wealthiest members of the National People’s Congress were found by Bloomberg News Agency last year to have an average net worth of $1.2 billion. Each.

    (…..) The popularly acerbic blogger Han Han, in his book, This Generation, sums up the growing tension in China this way: “The main contradiction in China today is that between the growing intelligence of the population at large and the rapidly waning morality of our officials.” A growing number of Chinese people aren’t afraid to say they deserve better. Some are impatient to see if their new leaders have the vision and courage to lead the change that’s needed rather than be unwillingly pushed forward by it. Few are holding their breath.

  7. (…..) It is almost seventy years since Karl Popper published his great work, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). The operation of the party-state in modern China exemplifies its theme in raw form. If modern China is about anything, it is about the fight for control – information control, social control, political control. The Communist Party has won this battle so far by pouring huge resources into all of these areas. It has been able to continue doing this because of the country’s vast gross GDP growth, which has meant it can pursue every other area of activity at a discount. This is bound to change, in that growth will increasingly come through greater efficiency – and that will require both better governance and management, and core political choices. There will need to be more consensus not just in the political elite but in society. To use or allow violence to quell disputes or protests, for example, will become counterproductive. The party will need to persuade people’s hearts as well as capturing their bodies. It will wrestle with the same issues of meaning, value, lifestyles and expectations as developed societies. It will need a new vocabulary beyond the idea of economic success as the summit of human existence. It will have to look at the world beyond GDP, and deliver more to its citizens than the possibility of becoming richer. These are great challenges, arguably bigger than any the CCP has faced before. It’s hard to imagine the controlling figures that will appear on the stage in mid-November either being bold enough or having the capacity to meet them. And yet, the future of this great country, with its energy and complexity and dynamism, also seems to demand an effort on the same scale. Chinese people are like people anywhere. In the end, they want to live in a country where they feel secure, fulfilled, hopeful; a country where they can aspire, perhaps even dream, and strive for a better world. That might at present be more a proposition than a detailed programme, but an open society – a society with less restraint and fewer controls – is the only way to make it happen. That is why the development of China is such a critical part of the story of humanity and its fight for openness, justice and equity.

  8. Twenty-five years ago, when Zong Qinghou was 42, he made his living selling soft drinks and popsicles to schoolchildren. He says he earned about $8 a month — less than a third of China’s average wage at the time — and was so broke that he once slept in a tunnel under the streets of Beijing rather than spend money on a hotel. Today, Zong, 67, is still selling soda — and lots of other things — as the wealthiest man in mainland China. His net worth of $20.1 billion as of Oct. 5 ranks him No. 30 in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Supermarkets stock the juice, soda and bottled water his Hangzhou Wahaha Group produces, and doting Chinese parents buy his baby formula and children’s clothes. Even in a country that has exploded in wealth, Zong stands out. His rags-to- riches tale is remarkable not just for its trajectory but for the way he has thrived amid China’s seemingly impossible conflation of capitalism and communism. Zong, who didn’t attend secondary school, lived on a farm commune from 1964 to 1978 during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. He read the Communist revolutionary’s books on leadership and learned about enduring through struggle. After Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s drive toward a market economy, came to power, Zong took over a grocery store with two retired teachers and a $22,000 loan from relatives (…..) Zong has been a delegate to the National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body, for nine years. He says he has talked about private enterprise playing a greater role in the economy with the country’s probable next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping. Xi will likely take over from Hu Jintao as president next year. Zong has proposed to lawmakers that private companies be allowed to open banks and be exempt from taxes if they extend credit to small businesses. Xi may be a kindred spirit, Zong says. “Xi believes private enterprise is the main direction of economic development,” Zong says. “He experienced hardships when he was young and working in the countryside, which gives him a profound understanding of the lower class and ordinary people.” Zong is optimistic that policymakers are on the right track, even though China’s economy has slowed for seven straight quarters as of the end of September. Premier Wen Jiabao, in office until March 2013, wants to boost domestic consumption, playing into Zong’s vision for Wahaha.“It isn’t realistic to drive the economy by exports or investment” Zong says. “The biggest hurdle facing China’s economy now is that the government’s income is too high and the people’s income is too low.” As China transformed itself into the world’s second-largest economy, Zong never considered he’d wind up as his country’s richest person. “I just swore I’d have a decent factory one day,” he says. “My wealth has been accumulated one yuan at a time.”

  9. On one of his many visits abroad in recent years, Xi Jinping, the presumptive new leader of China, met in 2009 with local Chinese residents in Mexico City, where in a relaxed atmosphere he indirectly criticized the United States. “There are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country,” Mr. Xi said, according to a tape broadcast on Hong Kong television. “China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?” Mr. Xi is set to be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to begin here on Nov. 8 — only two days after the American election. He will take the helm of a more confident China than the United States has ever known. He will be assuming supreme power in China at a time when relations between the two countries are adrift, sullied by suspicions over a clash of interests in Asia and by frequent attacks on China in the American presidential campaign. In the last four months, China has forged an aggressive, more nationalistic posture in Asia that may set the tone for Mr. Xi’s expected decade-long tenure, analysts and diplomats say, pushing against American allies, particularly Japan, for what China considers its territorial imperatives. The son of a revolutionary general, Mr. Xi, 59, boasts far closer ties to China’s fast-growing military than the departing leader, Hu Jintao, had when he took office. As Mr. Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People’s Liberation Army, deeply familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces. Even if Mr. Xi does not immediately become head of the crucial Central Military Commission as well as party leader, he will almost certainly do so within two years, giving him at least eight years as the direct overseer of the military. This combination of political power as head of the Communist Party and good relations with a more robust military could make Mr. Xi a formidable leader for Washington to contend with, analysts and diplomats in China and the United States say. “The basic question is whether Xi will suspend the drift in the U.S.-China relationship and take concrete steps to put it on a more positive footing — or will he put it on a different, more confrontational track?” said Christopher K. Johnson, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and until recently a China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. The answer appears to lie somewhere in between. In a speech in Washington in February, Mr. Xi said that China and the United States should forge a “new type of relationship between major countries in the 21st century.” Mr. Xi offered little specificity beyond respect for each side’s “core interests and major concerns,” “increasing mutual understanding and strategic trust” and “enhancing cooperation and coordination in international affairs.” But essentially, said Jin Canrong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, Mr. Xi was challenging the global leadership of the United States by suggesting that Washington needs to make room for China’s rising power (…..)

  10. After a decade in power, President Hu Jintao has been using his final weeks on the job to shore up his reputation, maneuver allies into key positions and elevate his interpretation of communist ideology — all in an attempt to preserve his influence over Chinese politics. Hu’s recent moves fit a familiar pattern in China, where top leaders don’t simply retire. They linger behind the scenes, exerting powerful but often unseen leverage until death. How successful Hu and his supporters are in these remaining days could affect the direction of the country’s leadership for years to come. Hu, 69, is battling strong head winds. He has long been seen as having a weak grip on power. And rampant criticism has bubbled up within the Communist Party about problems that have festered under his watch — including the increasing divide between rich and poor, widespread corruption and the growing need for economic reform. But Hu’s biggest challenge is the same one he has faced throughout his tenure: his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, 86, who continues to be the dominant force in Chinese politics. According to several current and former officials, party intellectuals, advisers and analysts — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of heightened party sensitivities ahead of the once-a-decade leadership transition — Jiang is trying to secure key spots for his allies during the upcoming transition and, by many accounts, is succeeding. The most important appointments, to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, will be announced during the party congress, which begins Thursday. To help Hu make his case, the propaganda machine in Beijing has been in overdrive for months. Front-page stories have exalted “the golden decade” he has overseen, and state TV has reported pointedly on how incredibly happy the populace is these days. Last month, the government unveiled at least 20 books, eight brochures and nine documentaries chronicling “the brilliant achievements” made possible by Hu’s vague ideology of systematic progress through “scientific development.”

    The furious competition between the two senior statesmen — and their large role in the patronage system that undergirds Chinese politics — only adds to the pressure on Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over the top job, becoming the first party leader in China’s history forced to contend with two former chiefs hovering over him. “Hu is trying to do with his successor what Jiang did to Hu and what even earlier Deng Xiaoping did to Jiang,” said an editor of a party publication. “Each generation tries to hold sway over the next” (…..)

  11. The British businessman murdered by the wife of the former Chinese politician Bo Xilai had been feeding information on the Bo family’s private affairs to MI6 for more than a year before his death, it emerged yesterday. Neil Heywood, who was found dead in the city of Chongqing almost a year ago, had been seen by some as a fantasist gripped by the idea of a James Bond lifestyle, not least because “007” was emblazoned on the number plate of his silver Jaguar, and he worked with Aston Martin. However, friends of Mr Heywood and former British officials have told The Wall Street Journal that the businessman used his close relationship with Mr Bo, and his wife, Gu Kailai, to glean insights into the Communist Party’s most prominent rising stars, which he then passed on to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. Mr Heywood became close to the Bo family in the 1990s, when Mr Bo was Mayor of Dalian in China’s north-east, and was reportedly involved in helping the couple’s son Bo Guagua get into Harrow. According to the report, Mr Heywood met an MI6 officer in 2009, and continued to meet that person regularly in China, providing them with information on Mr Bo’s affairs. Mr Heywood had previously been linked to a London-based business-intelligence company, Hakluyt, founded by a former MI6 officer. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, issued a statement in April saying Mr Heywood was “not an employee of the British Government in any capacity”. Associates of Mr Heywood said he was not an MI6 officer, and was “never in receipt of tasking” – he had not been given a mission or asked to seek out information – but he did provide a lot of information that sources described as “useful”, the Journal reported. Information on China’s opaque political system and the private lives of its top leaders – regarded by China as state secrets – is sought after by Western governments trying to understand the world’s second-largest economy. There has been no official suggestion that Mr Heywood was killed because of his links to MI6. However, the connection may raise questions over why the British Government did not demand an autopsy or question the speedy cremation of Mr Heywood’s body sooner. It also poses difficulties for Chinese authorities, which appear to have failed to spot an informant with access to the country’s powerful inner circle for more than a year (…..)

  12. Kang Li (27, design director, from Chengdu): “I feel there are a lot of things that are unbalanced or unfair in society. The people who have the resources can do things, if not, there is nothing available if you want to do something in normal ways … I feel the leadership wants to do something for the people, but they have to spend most of their energy and social resources on the political struggle. They are not 100 per cent focused on their work for the people, because 50 per cent of their time is taken up with internal struggles, about 30 per cent for personal interest, and only 20 per cent for the public. So the regime is not working efficiently. I don’t feel there will be many changes made by the new leadership since the older generations are still there. The only hope would come from the generations of those born in the 1970s and 1980s. I don’t know too much about politics, but I feel it is not good to only have one party ruling … China won’t change overnight, it is like an old house that needs refurbishment and maintenance day-to-day; it is not better than demolition and rebuilding. I hope the new leadership can do more innovation. They won’t be too bad, I hope.”

  13. In a year of scandals and corruption charges at the commanding heights of the Communist Party, a retired party chief some had written off as a spent force has thrust himself back into China’s most important political decisions and emerged as a dominant figure shaping the future leadership. The resurgence of Jiang Zemin, the 86-year-old former leader, is all the more striking because he was said last year to be near death. But over recent months, Mr. Jiang, who left office a decade ago, has worked assiduously behind the scenes, voicing frustration with the record of his successor, Hu Jintao, and maneuvering to have his protégés dominate the party’s incoming ruling group. He even weighed in on how to deal with Bo Xilai, the populist political figure who was caught up in a major scandal and was investigated after his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman. Mr. Jiang has also sought to shape policy, party insiders say, by proposing changes to an agenda-setting report presented Thursday at the start of the 18th Party Congress, the weeklong meeting that precedes the naming of Mr. Hu’s replacement and a new generation of leaders. Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu arrived together at the Great Hall of the People, before others in the senior leadership — another sign of Mr. Jiang’s influence.

    Mr. Jiang’s goal, those insiders say, appears to be to put China back on a path toward market-oriented economic policies that he and his allies argue stagnated under a decade of cautious leadership by Mr. Hu, a colorless party leader who favored more traditional socialist programs and allowed gargantuan state-owned companies to amass greater wealth and influence. Many see Mr. Jiang, who brought China into the World Trade Organization and rebuilt ties to the United States after a breakdown in 1989, as favoring deeper ties to the West and more opportunities for China’s private sector.

    Mr. Jiang was able to outflank Mr. Hu to shape a new lineup for the Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, which appears to have Jiang allies chosen for five of the projected seven seats, according to party insiders. The most prominent is Xi Jinping, the designated heir to Mr. Hu as party chief and president. “Look at the final seven people and you know who the big winner is: Jiang, or Jiang and Xi,” said an editor at a party media organization. “The loser is Hu.” That Mr. Jiang has been able to insert himself so boldly shows how diluted power has become at the apex of the Communist Party, just as policy makers and intellectuals from all quarters say the nation needs strong leadership to guide it through a period of a slowing economy and rising social discontent.

    Some supporters of Mr. Jiang say his involvement might give greater confidence to policy makers who could prove more amenable than Mr. Hu to loosening the hold of state-owned conglomerates in some crucial sectors, like finance and transportation, and also more inclined to establish a credible legal system that operates with a degree of autonomy from the party. Such steps could inject vigor into the economy, while also signaling modest steps toward accountability demanded by China’s expanding middle class.

    Even so, Mr. Jiang’s return to the center of party politics also exposes fundamental weaknesses in a system that relies on factional alliances and aging patriarchs to make crucial decisions. China’s ambitions to rise to be a modern global power remain yoked to a secretive political system in which true authority resides in hidden recesses. That could spell trouble for Mr. Hu’s presumed successor, Mr. Xi, who has yet to establish his own credentials as the party’s ultimate authority. When the congress ends next week, there will be 20 retired Standing Committee members, most of whom expect some say in running the country and appointing allies.

  14. Capping 10 careful years at the helm of the Communist Party, China’s top leader is stepping into history with a series of rear-guard actions. The leader, Hu Jintao, 69, is scheduled to step down as the party’s general secretary next week, handing over much of his power to his designated successor, Xi Jinping. But over the past few months, he has made it clear that he has little interest in the bold changes to the status quo that many Chinese now see as long overdue. “He’s worried about how history will view him,” said Qian Gang, who works with the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. “On the whole, he is against reform.” Mr. Hu made a key speech in July that dashed reformers’ hopes for measures to resuscitate the faltering economy and release social pressures by opening the political system. On Thursday, he wrote himself a glowing eulogy: a 100-minute address to the 18th Party Congress that was also meant to serve as a blueprint for Mr. Xi’s term in office.

    In a voluminous, 64-page formal document issued at the party congress, Mr. Hu nodded to almost every manner of change — economic, social, political and environmental — and he opened the door to some potentially important measures to limit the dominance of the state in the economy. But he balanced those with warnings to guard against a rise in unrest, a striking admission for a man whose signature slogan was to turn China into a “harmonious society.” “Social contradictions have clearly increased,” Mr. Hu wrote in the document.

    “There are many problems concerning the public’s immediate interests in education, employment, social security, health care, housing, the environment, food and drug safety, workplace safety, public security, and law enforcement.” Mr. Hu also lauded his own contribution to Communist Party ideology: “scientific development.” Most of his predecessors have had their own ideologies enshrined as guiding state doctrines. His repetition in his speech of the phrase, which means that the party should be pragmatic and follow policies that are demonstrably effective, implied that he, too, would be so honored. The result was a speech that, while ostensibly supporting a new agenda, actually represented an attempt to block much of it. According to Mr. Qian, a leading expert on textual analysis of Chinese leaders’ speeches, Mr. Hu’s speech hit on almost every antichange phrase used by Chinese Communist leaders. He referred to Communist China’s founder three times with the phrase “Mao Zedong Thought,” and he said that the party must “resolutely not follow Western political systems,” something not mentioned at the last congress five years ago. “They don’t say these terms lightly,” Mr. Qian said. “When they mention it, it matters.” Mr. Hu also coined a new term, pledging that the party will not follow the “wicked way” of changing the party’s course.

    Mr. Hu’s speech is thought to have been drawn up in cooperation with his successor, Mr. Xi. While Mr. Xi has been consulting with liberal members of China’s intelligentsia, he either did not oppose Mr. Hu’s direction or was not able to change it. That is important, observers say, because Mr. Xi will not exercise unrestrained power when he takes over.

    Besides the other half-dozen members on the Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo, he will also have to listen to the advice of Mr. Hu; Mr. Hu’s own predecessor, Jiang Zemin; and an estimated 20 other “senior leaders.” As if to emphasize their role, these men were seated on the dais next to Mr. Hu. Many of them are in their 70s and 80s and have exercised power for decades.

    “Xi Jinping certainly won’t be a Gorbachev,” said Yao Jianfu, a former official and researcher who closely follows Chinese politics and advocates democratic change.

    “Every aspect of reform has an important precondition — that the Communist Party remains in charge.” Even though Mr. Hu’s speech was broadcast live on national television and on screens in Beijing subway cars, gauging popular opinion was difficult (…..)

  15. (…..) What risk does Wang, the party hatchet man, see if the regime fails to discipline corruption in its ranks? Perhaps he fears a revolution. A Chinese publication noted Dec. 24 that he has been urging officials to read Alexis de Tocque­ville’s “The Old Regime and the Revolution,” evidently as a warning of how a regime can destroy itself from within.


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