The Changing of the Guard

China's president and premier step down from their party posts for a once-in-a-decade leadership change.

china-congress-hu-jiang-wen-305.jpg Hu Jintao (l), Jiang Zemin (c), and Wen Jiabao (r) applaud at the closing ceremony of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing, Nov. 14, 2012.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party wrapped up its 18th Congress with the resignation of the country's President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao from their top party posts to make way for the next generation of leaders to be unveiled on Thursday.

Hu stepped down to make way for Vice President Xi Jinping, while Premier Wen Jiabao left his post to Vice Premier Li Keqiang as more than 2,000 hand-picked Party delegates cast their votes for the three top policy-making bodies in the ruling party: the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Xi and Li were both elected to the party's Central Committee at the end of the week-long meeting, according to state news agency Xinhua, setting the stage for them to be president and prime minister respectively.

The two, who have long been predicted to take over, are expected to be confirmed as president and prime minister when parliament meets for its annual session in March, completing the party's second orderly succession since it took power in 1949.

The full list of the Central Committee well as the Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee is expected to be released on Thursday, when Xi is expected to be officially announced as the party's top leader.

All eyes will be on the Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest decision-making body which currently has nine members but is widely expected to be cut to just seven seats, according to veteran China political analyst Willy Wo-lap Lam.

"Whether inside China or overseas, the main thing people are concerned with at this congress has been the personnel changes, which will be announced at a meeting [on Thursday]," Lam said.

"But it is very clear that there has been a setback for intra-party democracy, because a lot of the retired leaders, especially Jiang Zemin, have been clearly involved in the selection of top personnel," as delegates rarely vote against leadership guidelines.

"It was Jiang Zemin who put forward Xi Jinping's name at the last 17th Party Congress as the successor to Hu Jintao," he said.

'Scientific development' theory

The close of Hu's political tenure has resulted in his theory of "scientific development" being entered into the Party's constitution alongside Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and the "Three Represents" of Party elder and former president Jiang Zemin.

Political commentator Cai Yongmei, a former editor of the Hong Kong-based magazine Kaifang, said the congress and the inscription of Hu's theories into the Party canon served as a stark reinforcement of China's rule of man, as opposed to rule of law.

"If [a leader] has a lot of political influence, then their theories are likely to last longer," Cai said. "In a society ruled by man [not law], all of the top leaders see themselves as playing a similar role to the founder of a religion."

Chinese Communist Party leaders wave at the closing ceremony of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing, Nov. 14, 2012.
Chinese Communist Party leaders wave at the closing ceremony of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing, Nov. 14, 2012.

Conservative retrenchment

Cai said the congress had shown the world unequivocally that there would be no political reforms in China, in spite of a growing chorus of calls in favor, although it was still unclear exactly what the world could expect from the new administration.

"Now the old guard ... have to sit back and enjoy the show, and it will take a while for us to see what the new leadership will be like after it has been fully revealed," she said.

"The tone of the 18th Party Congress wasn't [necessarily] the tone that will be struck by the new leadership."

Overall, Cai said there had been a conservative retrenchment in Chinese politics since the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.

"The Chinese Communist Party has faced its biggest challenges at this congress since June 4," including the scandal surrounding former rising political star Bo Xilai who was linked to the murder of a British businessman, she said.

"I think they have a very keen sense of crisis, so they want to ensure that they hang onto power smoothly and completely; they have used all manner of security measures and held it behind closed doors."

Hu's legacy

Lam said the inscription of Hu's "scientific development" theories into the canon of the constitution were becoming a courtesy nod to outgoing leaders.

"This means that Jiang Zemin had the 'three represents' from his era, and now we have the so-called values of 'scientific development' from Hu Jintao's tenure," said

"I think that Hu Jintao is very concerned about his position in history now that he is retiring from public life."

"His views on how to run the country now must get inscribed into the Party constitution," Lam said, adding that there was little substance to Hu's "theories."

"It's not very meaningful for China's future development," he said.

According to Wong Yiu-chung, director of the politics department at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, Jiang's high-profile role in this congress had put pressure on outgoing president Hu Jintao, who may not succeed in retaining his post as head of the armed forces.

"If he doesn't stay on [as chairman of the Central Military Commission], I think it'll be because he was forced out," Wong said.

"Jiang Zemin's high-profile role has put a lot of pressure on Hu."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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