The Jiang Zemin-led Shanghai faction’s predominance among the members of China’s new Politburo standing committee at the expense of outgoing President Hu Jintao’s has been widely noted, including by this Bystander. It seems a throw back to an earlier generation of Party leadership. In a sense it is. Elite, conservative state capitalists again dominate the inner sanctum of power. But the change is by no means permanent, to our eye. Hu’s faction, rooted in the Communist Youth League, is much more prevalent among the Politburo’s 25 members, a de facto layer below the standing committee, and, a rung of power below that, among the 376 members of the Central Committee, which has also taken on a distinctly younger look.
We count at least nine Politburo members in or aligned with the Hu faction, a number Jiang’s faction cannot muster. The disparity in the Central Committee is even greater. Hu’s proteges are also well represented on the Party’s Central Military Commission, which oversees the PLA. Such influence is likely to have been the price Hu extracted for giving up the committee’s chairmanship at the same time as he relinquished his Party post. It may also have given him some surety that that would make it more difficult for hardline, dissident elements of the military to move against either the people or the Party in the event of some breakdown of social order.
Hu’s proteges are also more broadly represented in the so-called sixth generation of leaders coming along behind those being ushered in as China’s fifth generation under new Party general secretary and President assumptive Xi Jinping. Five of the seven members of the Politburo standing committee hit retirement age at or around the time of the next Party Congress in five years time. Jiang himself is already 86. Prominent Hu loyalists and proteges such as Li Yuancho, the head of the Party’s organization department and Wang Yang, the 57-year old Guangdong party boss, both of whom failed to get promoted to the standing committee this time but retained Politburo membership, may feel their time will come again then, especially as the sixth generation of leaders will be starting to stake out their ground then for 2022 leadership transition.
It is early days, but Inner Mongolia party boss Hu Chunhua and Sun Zhengcai, newly appointed as party boss in disgraced Bo Xilai’s old stamping ground, Chongqing, are being marked out to succeed Xi and prime minister assumptive Li Keqiang, respectively, in 2022. Hu Chunhua is a Hu Jintao protege and Sun is allied to outgoing prime minister Wen Jiabao. To our mind, that means that the factional in-fighting that marked the run-up to the leadership transition now underway will continue, if not as virulently as earlier this year. Factional jockeying for power is part of the warp and weft of China’s elite politics. Xi will need to move decisively to establish his authority, impose unity, and, perhaps, establish his own faction in the vacuum that Jiang’s looks likely to leave.