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     Volume 11 |Issue 46| November 23, 2012 |


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Reaz Ahmad

China has witnessed a major change in its leadership in mid-November. The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), held from November 8 through 14, saw a change of guard in the world's most populous nation. The once-in-a-decade leadership change in China came at a time when presidential polls in the United States and Barack Obama's subsequent return to the Oval office were grabbing the spotlight.

Yet this time around the change in leadership in CPC, the largest political organisation in the world boasting over 82 million members, has been widely reported, analysed and discussed across China as well as in the media and power corridors of many other countries of the world.

There has been wide coverage of the Chinese leadership change this time - that puts an end to President Hu Jintao's 10-year rule. People all over the world have been curious to see any eventuality of political system reforms in the 1.34 billion-strong nation, evident in the sheer presence of a record high number of foreign media persons in Beijing to report on the Congress that takes place once in five-years but picks new leaders once in 10-years.

As many as 2,700 journalists, that include over 1,700 from outside China, covered the weeklong event, well surpassing the numbers of 2,268 party delegates who elected the 371-strong CPC Central Committee and eventually a 25-member politburo and then the most powerful core body of politburo standing committee that has been scuttled down to a 7-member one from its preceding committee of 9-members.

It was quite an experience for someone working as a journalist for over two decades in a multi-party democracy called - Bangladesh - and covering the Congress of the Communist Party of China at Great Hall of People in Beijing's iconic 1989-movement famed Tian'anmen Square.

At the very outset the outgoing general secretary of the CPC, Hu Jintao, delivered a 46-page report before the delegates at the Great Hall in an over 90-minute speech. That practically wrapped up the rather brief but ceremonious and colourful opening session of the 18th Congress on November 8. The following one week, the Congress witnessed many plenary sessions, many of which gave full access to media, backdoor parleys as well as voting to elect the new committees.

Being elected to the core politburo body as first among the seven, the incumbent vice president of China, Xi Jinping, became the new general secretary of CPC thereby becoming the man-in-waiting to take over the charge of the second largest economy of the world by early 2013. Xi, the son of a highly regarded communist revolutionary in China, is now scheduled to succeed Hu Jintao as China's President in March next year. His comrade, Li Keqiang, a vice premier of China, got the second top slot in the politburo standing committee and is all but set to take over premiership from Wen Jiabao in early next year as well.

Hu Jintao, who came to power in 2002 in line with the Chinese leadership succession serial of - Mao Zedong-Deng Xiaoping-Jiang Zemin - saw China grow from the sixth largest to second largest economy of the world with its GDP surging to 7 trillion USD, only second to the United States boasting a GDP of 17 trillion USD.

In that succession order, Xi apparently is taking to the helm a robust Chinese economy amidst persistent global economic slowdown with even a stronger mandate under his belt. Unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, Xi does not need to wait to take charge of 2.3 million strong military. When Hu became CPC general secretary a decade ago, he had to wait for two more years before Jiang Zemin finally relinquished the charge of military command. But this time Xi has got supreme power by being elected to head both the Communist Party as well as the Chinese armed forces.

Other than the flamboyant and traditional communist-style power changeover, the 18th Congress of the CPC will go down in history as a cautious move forward by modern China towards the path of economic reforms while remaining faithful to Marxism-Leninism as well as Mao and Deng Xiaoping's thoughts and theories.

The CPC, a party which Mao and 12 other revolutionaries had formed at a comrade's Shanghai residence back in July 23, 1921, once again demonstrated its firm resolve, through this just held 18th Congress, that it wants to remain faithful to the socialist ideologies by keeping intact, what they often dubbed as "Chinese Characteristics," but at the same time pursuing market economy to see this Asian giant economy reach to a new height by 2020.

Chinese style of 'socialist market economy' started taking shape back in late '70s when the most visionary leader of new China, Deng Xiaoping kick started a startling economic reform process in the country.

While the reforms that started over three decades back have profusely given dividends to China's outstanding developments and nation-building, the new generation leadership still consider further opening-up of Chinese society as a whole remaining a formidable challenge.There are grappling questions of wealth distribution, narrowing down the widening gaps between the rich and the poor, between the rural areas and urban areas and above all reigning in the incidents of corruption - particularly among the high party cadres and functionaries.

The just retired CPC general secretary and the outgoing Chinese President, Hu Jintao, in fact, begun his farewell to power with a warning that corruption could kill the Communist Party and gave call for safeguarding the party control. Failing to tackle corruption "could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state", he warned while presenting his report before the Congress' opening session on November 8. "Leading officials … should both exercise strict self-discipline and strengthen education and supervision over their family and staff." And Hu reminded that no one was above the law and whoever erred should face "justice without mercy."

The scandal surrounding ex-politburo member Bo Xilai – now awaiting prosecution, following his wife's conviction for murdering a British businessman Neil Heywood – and further revelations about leaders and their families actually helped push the graft issue up on the agenda in the just concluded 18th Congress.

After elected as the new CPC general secretary Xi published his first article on Monday (November 19) giving observation that the amended charter of the CPC would enable China to keep pace with the time. "Nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards," wrote Xi.

Addressing a study session for the politburo Xi said "In recent years, some countries have stored up problems over time leading to seething public anger, civil unrest and government collapse – corruption has been an important factor in all this."

Xi urged that efforts should be made to guide party members and officials to consciously study, abide by, carry out and safeguard the CPC Constitution in all activities of CPC organisations at various levels, so as to strengthen the cultivation of party spirit and boost members' awareness of the party's missions and responsibilities.

An unprecedented number of media persons covered this Congress.

Apart from the graft issue and the issue of opening-up of Chinese market for foreign investment, the question of further democratisation of the political system in China also came up prominently during some of the deliberations of the CPC Congress.

Though less known outside China, there is existence of eight more parties in China other than the CPC. These, they call, democratic parties - are also part of a greater political consultative process. According to Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai the CPC routinely discuss major issues concerning the country and its people with these parties and take their views, no matter how critical they may be. There is more than one minister now in China, who comes from such non-CPC parties.

Though there were no proposals, as such, for radically changing such system in Chinese politics, the issue of nourishing more democratic practices within the CPC figured out prominently in the 18th Congress. In fact, bringing in more delegates from the grassroots, increasing the representation of women and ethnic minority delegates - in the 18th Congress - were all part of a gradual intra-party democratisation process.

China analysts reckon that as growth projections for China's economy remain robust, reforms both in economic as well as political fronts, if pursued in a proper fashion, may help China take shape as a new growth model for the rest of Asia as well as the world.

Last week Paris-based leading international think-tank Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projected that China will overtake the US in the next four years to become the largest economy in the world. It said China's economy will be larger than the combined economies of the euro-zone countries by the end of 2012, and will overtake the US by the end of 2016.

The 18th Congress of CPC took up the issue of narrowing down the wealth gap as such growth projections also show how vulnerable China may become to increased inequalities as its economy continues to get bigger and bigger.Officials in Beijing talking to this correspondent said they have full confidence on the new leadership that they would give due attention to address the rural poverty as they push further to achieve more gains in overall economic growth.

Reaz Ahmad is news editor of The Daily Star.


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