New Leadership in Beijing Spells End of Reform

November 15, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
The Titanic Accomplishment of the 18th Party Congress
The Titanic Accomplishment of the 18th Party Congress.


A waiting time of 50 minutes, this was a new record for the Chinese Communist Party, which is usually very efficient about its “elections.” It took the first Central Committee meeting of the 18th Party Congress 50 minutes to release the names of the next Politburo Standing Committee members—the small group who runs the Party.

The second longest wait time was 38 minutes during the 16th Party Congress in 2002. Because Jiang Zemin wanted to continue as the chairman of the Military Committee—in other words, retain authority over China’s armed forces even though he was retiring as Party head, and because Jiang was increasing the number of Politburo members from 7 to 9, there was a 38-minute wait for the results. One of the extra members was the head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee and the other was the propaganda minister.

The extra 12 minutes of waiting time this year suggests that the struggle behind the scenes of the 18th Party Congress was even more intense.

At around 11:50 a.m. Beijing time, the list was revealed: Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli.

Maintaining Stability

On the previous Standing Committee one seat was held by Zhou Yongkang, the head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), the secretive organization with more money than China’s defense budget and controls almost all aspects of law enforcement in China. Zhou Yongkang was not allowed to name a successor who would head the PLAC and take his place on the Standing Committee.

But Zhou’s theory of “maintaining stability” can be found in both Zhang Dejiang and Zhang Gaoli, as can be seen in how each respectively handled the Wenzhou train crash and the catastrophic shopping mall fire in Tianjin City.

On July 23, 2011, a bullet train slammed into another train at high speed in Wenzhou City, with four fully loaded train cars falling off of an elevated viaduct. Officials released a death toll of 39, but netizens and observers at the scene believed the true death toll to be in the hundreds. Then Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang ordered the train be buried, forestalling any investigation.

On June 30, 2012, a fire broke out in a shopping mall in Tianjin City, killing hundreds, according to those at the scene. The official death toll, however, was 10, and there were reports the toll was kept at that number so as not to adversely affect the career of Tianjin Party Secretary Zhang Gaoli.


Li Yuanchao’s absence from the list is surprising. He once was Hu and Wen’s candidate for premier, along with Li Keqiang, to form the “double Li system.” But now Li Yuanchao, after serving for five years as the director of the Central Organization Department and the head of the Central Secretariat, did not make it onto the Standing Committee.

Li was considered popular and was most trusted by Hu and Wen from a political and organizational point of view. Especially worth noting is that Li Yuanchao was the one who announced that Bo Xilai, who had been the hope of the Jiang Zemin faction for retaining control of the Party, would undergo the abusive Party interrogation called “shuanggui” and would be dismissed from both his Party and administrative posts.

Another surprise omission was Wang Yang, who is regarded as Hu and Wen’s student and the star figure for reform. Both Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao’s absences from the Standing Committee signify that Hu and Wen did not really have a say in who gets selected.

Hu Jintao will retire completely and Xi Jinping will become the chairman of the Military Committee. This means that Hu Jintao is completely out of the center of power in the Party. Hu’s influence will be weaker than that of Jiang Zemin, who retired 10 years ago.

If Hu’s retirement was meant to be a trade in exchange for Jiang stopping his continued interference in politics in the Party, Hu will have been tricked. At the 15th Congress, Jiang forced Qiao Shi into retirement, and at the 16th Congress, Jiang forced Li Ruihuan into retirement, using the same old trick.

Reform Hopes Shattered

In the past 10 years, Hu Jintao accomplished nothing as the CCP general secretary. He will accomplish even less after retirement. When people recall Hu’s record, perhaps the only thing to remember is Hu’s attention to trivial matters and his image as a yes-man, kowtowing in front of Jiang Zemin.

There are those in the Party that sought to save it through reform. In the conversations Xi Jinping had with reformer Hu Deping that Reuters reported at the beginning of September, Xi discusses the urgency of reform for the Party and how it has to get right the pace of reform.

The new Standing Commitee lineup signifies the failure of this reform strategy and will speed up the CCP’s demise.

Zhang Dejiang, Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan all belong to Jiang’s faction and have a very bad reputation among the general public. The new lineup will completely destroy any remaining hopes that the CCP would improve itself. It is very likely that the common mass will be more determined than ever to overthrow and disintegrate the CCP.

The only reason Hu and Wen would have backed off in the struggle against Jiang is out of an attempt to save the Party. Hu and Wen will suffer the consequences. In their dealing with Bo Xilai’s case, Hu, Wen, and He Guoqiang have already offended Jiang’s faction by removing its most promising successor.

Hu and Wen might now be facing the return of the Jiang faction. In the current Standing Committee lineup, Hu and Wen’s cadres are on the weaker side. Hu and Wen’s futures are precarious.

Moreover, the CCP may not be able to maintain its rule for another five years. If, before its demise, CCP insiders want to find a scapegoat, Hu and Wen are at the top of the list.

The 18th Party Congress lineup tells us that the CCP, a cultish criminal organization, cannot even fake reform. The dreams of those who harbored some hope for the CCP are now completely dispelled. Only by getting rid of all illusions about the CCP and by ending the persecution of Falun Gong and other religious groups and dissidents will China have a future.

Zhang Tianliang is a writer and commentator on contemporary Chinese political and social issues. He contributes to a variety of publications, including the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television and Voice of America’s Chinese service.

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 to participate in the persecution any longer. 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.

Read the original Chinese article.

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Zhang Tianliang (Shujia Gong), Ph.D. former adjunct professor of George Manson University, is dean of the Department of Liberal Arts and Science at the New York Based Feitian Academy of writes on China's history and politics. He contributes to a variety of publications, including the Arts. He is a popular columnist at the Epoch Times and senior commentator at the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television and a guest commentator at Voice of America’s Chinese service. He is the author of China's Path to Peaceful Transition.