November 26, 2012
Below, Jayadeva Ranade’s “Bright Red Future” was first published in DNA on Nov. 23, 2012:
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s week-long (November 8-14) 18th Congress concluded on schedule after tough, protracted negotiations on personnel appointments stretching up to November 14th. It elected a seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) led by 62-year-old Xi Jinping. Setting speculation to rest, Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao to all his posts including, significantly, to that of Chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).
Notable is the reduced size of the Party’s highest body, namely the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) from nine to seven. The number of Politburo (PB) members is constant at 25, but the strength of the Party’s Central Committee (CC) increased from 371 to 376. The PBSC’s reduced size meant that unlike in the past no leaders from the successor ‘sixth generation’ were inducted. Unlike the previous PBSC or PB, neither of them include a representative of China’s ethnic minorities, though there are 39 ethnic minorities represented in the CC. The number of Tibetans in the CC dropped from two to one, however, there are four Tibetans among the alternate members of the CC. The number of women has reduced to 33. The new CC is younger with 80%, or 166 of the 205 full members, born in the 1950s. There are nine who were born in the 1960s and it is from among these nine ‘sixth generation’ leaders that successors to Chinese president Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will emerge by 2022.
Three clear messages have been sent out by the 18th Congress. These are: continuity, re-assertion of the Party’s traditional values and discipline, and a focus on domestic issues including graduated economic reforms leading to “common prosperity”. The new seven-member PBSC exudes these themes.
Continuity implies little change from the policies followed by Hu Jintao during his tenure. That the Party’s traditional values will be emphasized was evident in the speeches of Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, both of whom stressed the validity of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and referred to the ‘Four Cardinal Principles’—a phrase coined by Deng Xiaoping but later usurped by the Leftists. Xi Jinping’s speech at the Politburo’s first collective study session on Nov 17, in fact, contained numerous phrases and references from Marxist ideology and emphasized the importance of communist ideology.
Serious domestic issues confront the new Chinese leadership. There is widespread popular discontent generated by a variety of issues like widening income inequality, rampant corruption, pollution and food adulteration, non-payment of salaries and arrears, lay-offs etc. Popular tension is exacerbated by China’s ‘netizens’. The level of discontent is evident from the rising incidence of protests, which in 2010, were estimated at 1,80,000 and anticipated to increase by 8-12% each year, prompting an increase in the country’s security budget -- to higher than the national defence budget -- for the past two consecutive years.
The issues were reflected in Hu Jintao’s Work Report to the 18th Congress on November 14, his last to a Party Congress. The Work Report candidly highlighted that the Party’s very survival was in danger if corruption remained unchecked. The theme was reiterated by Xi Jinping in his very first speech. For the first time ever a Work Report to the Party Congress also referred to environment and ecology. The issues have sparked numerous protests across China over the past three years and a lot of unrestrained discussion on China’s cyberspace. They are kept alive by the 3000 Chinese environmentalist groups.
All members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) are stolid, dependable apparatchiks who adhere to the Party line and discipline and will neither brook any violation. Their selection is evidence of the Bo Xilai incident’s impact on the Party. It is reinforced by the elevation to the PBSC of Party propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, who has been uncompromising in controlling and implementing the Party’s approved narrative even when it meant excising portions of speeches made by president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao. Liu Yunshan will continue to oversee Propaganda and Education, which suggests that media and cyberspace will be strictly policed and Party ideology more strenuously propagated.
All members of the PBSC, which includes four ‘princelings’, joined the CCP during the Cultural Revolution despite many having personally suffered. They have a mental toughness moulded by adversity. The ‘princelings’ especially feel that China must regain its rightful place in the world. They will not compromise on matters of sovereignty or territorial integrity. The issue of ethnic minorities, and particularly Tibetans, will be a high priority. This could portend an increase in China’s activities in Nepal and among Tibetan Buddhists. On the South China Sea they will steadily push the limits, but stopping short of conflict. These policies will result in increased pressure on India and Japan.
The author is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.