A day after the Chinese Communist Party concluded its 18th Party Congress, the 376 members of the Central Committee that were nominally “elected” during that event entered once more the Great Hall of the People and “elected” the new Politburo.
The outcome of these events had been planned and decided upon inside the Party in advance, of course. The voting was just for show. But ritual plays a crucial role for China’s communist regime, and right after the “vote” the new committee members were trotted out to meet and greet waiting foreign and state media. The guests were kept waiting nearly an hour, a record delay in the tightly scripted world of Chinese communist political ritual.
All eyes were on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, a group of seven men (down from nine) that is the nerve center of the Party. The composition of the Standing Committee had been a matter of speculation and conjecture for months.
Two positions in that body had already been decided: Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the CCP, and Li Keqiang, the next premier.
The five new members of the elite group, announced for the first time on Nov. 15 in Beijing, were: Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli.
Those five Chinese names were the most significant outcome, and one of the few unknown elements, over the last week of the political Congress in Beijing, during which time the Party’s security forces harshly attacked dissidents and religious believers across the country and put the capital under a mild version of martial law.
Zhang Dejiang, 66, is a princeling, the son of an artillery major general. He most recently played disaster recovery in Chongqing, replacing Bo Xilai earlier this year. Zhang gained promotions from Jiang Zemin earlier in his career, but is now thought to be loyal to Hu Jintao.
Yu Zhengsheng, 68, has been called a “lubricant” inside the Standing Committee due to his prominent red family background and extensive political connections. Yu has a history of ties to Jiang Zemin, but like Zhang, also knows when the political winds shift: he went from supporting Bo Xilai to mercilessly denigrating him after the Wang Lijun incident this year.
Liu Yunshan, 65, has been director of the propaganda department since 2007, and has led propaganda tasks against specific groups like Falun Gong. His career has been tied closely to Hu Jintao and the Chinese Communist Youth League, Hu’s power base.
Wang Qishan, 64, is most well known for his financial reform credentials. He has been a member of the Politburo since 2007 and vice premier since 2008. Wang is a princeling and considered a protege of Zhu Rongji, the former reformist-minded premier, and to a lesser extent Jiang Zemin. Wang ran the state-owned China Construction Bank from 1994 to 1997.
Zhang Gaoli, 65, has been Party Secretary of Tianjin since 2007. He is a protege of Jiang Zemin and Jiang’s ally, Zeng Qinghong, and gained favor and promotion due to ties with Zeng.
There were a few other questions of key importance alongside the new five names. All hinged broadly on the political struggle between Hu Jintao and former regime leader Jiang Zemin, which has taken place over the decade since Hu took the reigns of power, but intensified this year with the Bo Xilai political scandal.
Of leading importance was the decision by Hu Jintao to step down as Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which was also announced. An article prominently placed in Xinhua, the state mouthpiece, on the morning of this climactic meeting, was titled “The CCP Resolutely Lifts High the Banner of Rule of Law, Sweeping Away the Residual ‘Rule of Man.'”
To canny observers of China’s politics, where a carefully placed editorial can signal a broader political shift, the article was a stab at Jiang Zemin’s flaunting of established Party leadership procedures, even up to the just-concluded Congress. The person standing and sitting next to the chief in political conferences should by rights be the second in charge, but Jiang regularly appeared alongside Hu over the last week, even though he has no official position.
Hu’s withdrawal also gave Xi Jinping a clean slate with which to work. The Party is now his responsibility, a task no longer shared with Hu Jintao.
“The new lineup of the Standing Committee is going to accelerate the CCP’s demise,” said Zhang Tianliang, an expert on Chinese politics based in Washington. “The attempts inside the Party to prolong its life through reform have evidently failed.”
Zhang Tianliang referred to the involvement of Zhang Dejiang in the Wenzhou high-speed rail disaster, Zhang Gaoli’s mishandling of a large fire in Tianjin, and Liu Yunshan’s iron grip on media censorship. “The Chinese people see these men as bandits. This selection is going to completely extinguish any hope for change that the people may have had, and is very probably going to quicken the arrival of the day when the Chinese people get rid of the Party entirely.”
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Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing any longer to participate in the persecution. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.