Who’s After Hu? Hu?

Dr Watson: Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Sherlock Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Watson: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.

So it was with the recently concluded fourth plenary session of the Party’s 17th Central Committee. Xi Jinping, the vice-president who has been widely tipped to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2012, was not made vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

As this was an expected stepping stone to the presidency, it  has led to speculation that Xi is not the shoe-in he was thought to be. However, the fact that only he and Hu gave major speeches to the closed door gathering affirms, to this Bystander’s mind at least, that Xi’s heir apparent status remains.

Hu is thought to favor Li Keqiang, who, like the president, has close ties to the Communist Youth League, the party’s largest faction. Many had pencilled in Li as Wen Jiabao’s successor as prime minister.

Though the party wants to present a unified face to the world as it hits the 60th anniversary the founding of the republic, the inevitable jockeying for position of any political succession is clearly taking place — and behind closed doors behind close doors. We don’t really have a clue about how deep the divisions are, whether they might open a way for a compromise candidate or even what Hu, who seems to be enjoying being a globetrotting head of state, intends to do once he has to retire from party and state office.

Might he be thinking of a role as a Putin with Chinese characteristics, exercising power as head of the Army, and remaining a protective figure for his Youth League proteges, even as the princeling Xi succeeds him? That was much what Jiang Zemin did when Hu succeeded him as president in 2002. Jiang got forced out after two years. Hu might have in mind going the full five, seeing himself as one dog who hasn’t lost his bark.

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