China’s President Hu wins a second term atop a new leadership lineup
Hu’s ability to manage the new, disparate coalition will determine how united the party is in dealing with tensions over a yawning gap between rich and poor at home and managing China’s rising clout abroad so as not to anger the U.S. and other world powers.
If Hu is successful, he will be freer to boost spending on health, education and other services long-neglected in the headlong drive for economic growth. Otherwise, with his own retirement likely in five years, he could become a lame duck.
„Hu Jintao is a brilliant politician,“ said Cheng Li, a watcher of Chinese politics at Washington’s Brookings Institution. But managing the new leadership „is a serious test.“
Overall, Hu emerged politically stronger from eight days of high-level political meetings and months of bargaining in the lead-up. A party congress that wrapped up Sunday endorsed Hu’s signature policy program to help the poor, and saw the retirement of a key rival. A Central Committee meeting Monday elevated a Hu protege, Li Keqiang, into the leadership.
„We are keenly aware of our difficult tasks and great responsibilities,“ Hu said while introducing the new nine-man Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s most powerful body.
Yet the deals Hu struck became clearer with the inauguration of the new lineup of five holdovers from the last leadership and four newcomers. Key positions that oversee law enforcement and internal party investigations were given to associates of his rivals. Another younger politician and potential competitor to Li was also promoted.
In the months ahead, a crucial sign will be the relationship between the leadership’s youngest members: Li, 52, a Hu protege of more than 20 years since their days in the Communist Youth League; and the 54-year-old Xi Jinping, Shanghai’s party secretary.
The son of a politically influential veteran revolutionary, Xi is less beholden to Hu and emerged in recent weeks as a compromise candidate for leaders who feared giving Hu too much sway.
In many respects, Xi and Li represent different camps, with Li identified with Hu’s supporters drawn partly from the youth league, and Xi with the traditional party elite and more prosperous coastal provinces.
In a portent, Xi was ranked a notch higher than Li in the leadership hierarchy, at No. 6, and given a post on the Secretariat, which handles day-to-day running of the party. Li’s duties were not announced.
Should the competition between Xi and Li get beyond Hu’s control, „he’ll be blamed,“ said Li, the politics watcher.
Monday’s announcement of a new leadership lineup marks the end of months of often contentious in-house bargaining over high-level posts that saw Hu purge one Politburo member who had criticized Beijing’s policies.
In a show of unity, the new committee marched onto a dais at the Great Hall of the People in order of rank, dressed almost identically in dark suits, white shirts and conservative neckties.
„We will be firmly committed to development, which is the party’s top priority,“ Hu said in his brief remarks broadcast live by state television. He added that the party would do so „by putting people first.“
The priority on helping the disadvantaged has made Hu and his Premier Wen Jiabao popular with ordinary Chinese, a useful advantage in political wrangling. Wen, ranked No. 3 in the party hierarchy, also stayed in the leadership for a second term, as did the legislature’s chairman and party’s No. 2 Wu Bangguo.
Aside from the nine-member Standing Committee, 16 others were named to the Politburo. Among those elevated were the commerce minister and Beijing’s mayor, both economic technocrats, and a career political commissar in the military who will likely become defense minister.
Hu gained a significant edge Sunday with the retirement of Vice President Zeng Qinghong, a seasoned infighter, and two other members from the leadership.
However, in sign of Zeng’s lingering influence, an ally, Jia Qinglin, kept his leadership slot, despite being tainted by a smuggling and corruption scandal.
Despite his departure, Zeng’s influence is certain to linger. A friend from their days in the oil ministry, Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, was given a leadership post in charge of law enforcement. Another protege, He Guoqiang, who recently handled personnel issues was put in charge of the party’s internal anti-corruption Central Discipline Inspection Committee.