Party Congress: China's Political Wall

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Empty Talk at Party Congress
by Peter Kwong  
Over one thousand foreign journalists from 55 countries have gathered in Beijing this week to report on the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress. The focus of their interest is whether the current Party Chairman, Hu Jingtao, will succeed in consolidating his power.
This will be revealed when the party announces the names of appointees to the Central Committee, the Military Commission, and other top positions, including the exclusive Standing Committee of the Political Bureau.

At the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress, being held this week, decisions already made by the 24 members of the Political Bureau will be ritually agreed upon by 2,213 delegates. "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" continues its one-party governance of the largest country on the earth.
[republished at PFP with Agence Global permission.] 
The conventional thinking goes that if Hu’s supporters manage to occupy strategic positions on these bodies, he’ll able to carry out his own policies without obstruction from members of other factions within the party -- the most prominent of which are the so-called Shanghai Clique -- or the GDPers -- led by ex-party chairman Jiang Zemin, who believe in aggressive pursuit of economic growth and who dominate the fastest developing coastal cities. The other prominent faction is the “princelings" -- sons and daughters of top party officials who control the most important natural resources and financial institutions in China.

The factional struggles within the party have, of course, already been played out behind closed doors prior to the congress. The Congress, held at the impressive Great Hall of the People, is a well-choreographed event, staged to showcase party unity in the service of the people.

The poor journalists have to endure tedious and obtuse speeches delivered from the majestic rostrum across the great distances of the gigantic auditorium, while the 2,213 delegates sit below -- a sea of drab western suits and green military uniforms with a sprinkling sparkle of colorful ethnic minority costumes -- applauding politely. Most delegates pretend to be interested by taking notes. Some can be seen dozing off. Occasionally, they have a chance to vote on agreed upon resolutions and pass them by 98% margins.

The approach to understanding Chinese politics based on intra-party factional struggles ignores the larger realities of the country. The method of tracking who’s up and who’s down in leadership position is the easiest -- sometimes the only way -- to analyze a closed political system. But China experts who have used this “Kremlin Square watching” technique have failed to predict every major shift in Chinese communist history, including the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square massacre. The problem confronting China today is not that of factions within the party but of the institution of a one party system unable to correct its own mistakes.

When Hu Jingtao became the party chairman five years ago, he was faced with serious domestic unrest resulting from years of reckless pursuit of economic growth without heed to social and political consequences. Hu and his premier, Wen Jiabao, understood that these problems, if left uncorrected, could lead to the collapse of the communist regime. They promptly promised reform to end corruption and abuse by party authorities, and the easing of the gap between the rich and poor.

However , despite slogans like “stabilizing the economy to improve the people's livelihood,” corruption within the party got worse. Last year the party circulated an internal memo forbidding its members to bao er nai -- keep second wives, i.e. mistresses. This restriction was necessary because 80% of the officials charged with corruption were found to bao er nai. Their cases not only exposed party’s decadence to the public, but showed willful squandering of national coffers using concubines as conduits for laundering ill-gotten gains.

But what particularly outrages the Chinese public today is the widespread land grab by developers with backing from party officials, which has left many farmers landless and pushed urban residents to far-flung suburbs, and led to major riots all across the country. Such misconduct runs against existing laws. But with the monopoly on power firmly in the hands of the Communist Party -- which, of course, is in total control of law enforcement and the judicial system -- laws are useless when officials are determined to ignore them.

There are no checks and balances against the power of the Party.

On this point, there is no relief in sight, even if Hu’s faction wins all the seats up for grabs during this Congress. Earlier this year, in May, Hu delivered a major policy speech, which has now been elevated to the status of one of the most important party documents. In it he stressed that China would follow neither capitalist nor social democratic route, but move steadfastly in the direction of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

What he meant was that China would not adopt a multi-party parliamentary system, accepted by most European communists and socialists, including the ex-communist leaders in Russia. Not only would Hu not tolerate an opposition party, he even refuses to loosen the centralized power within the party.

The tiny Political Bureau (currently numbering 24) determines all important policies and makes all party, military, and government leadership appointments. The delegates gathered at the party Congress in Beijing this week will get to vote on these decisions, with only one choice on the ballot to choose from.
Even the Vietnamese Communist Party recently offered two choices when electing new chairman. So long as the Chinese communist leaders keep blocking political reform, there will be no meaningful changes for the people of China -- regardless of which faction wins in Beijing this week.

Peter Kwong, a professor of Asian American studies at Hunter College, is co-author of Chinese America: The Untold Story of America's Oldest New Community.

Copyright © 2007 Peter Kwong

Released: 17 October 2007
Word Count: 870

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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Peter Kwong,Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Released: 17 October 2007
Word Count: 870
Rights & Permissions Contact: Agence Global, 1.336.686.9002, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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