China’s Next Politburo

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Who are the candidates expected to take China into the 2030s?  

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis  

The Chinese Communist Party’s ‘Sixth Plenum’ has just concluded, which as we suggested beforehand, gave President Xi Jinping more kudos in the annals of Chinese Communist Party history by linking him directly to the elevation of the “immortals” – namely Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. While certain mischievous Western media suggested Xi’s non-appearance at COP26 was due to an ‘internal power struggle’ it turned out to be far from the truth. Xi’s elevation creates a direct line to him from Mao via Deng and effectively reduces the influence of the further two remaining political factions prior to Xi’s accension – those of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

Additional consolidation can also be expected as China will shortly be choosing the Politburo candidates for the 20th Party Congress, which starts from October next year. That will appoint China’s most senior leaders for the coming five years and possibly longer. There could be changes in its composition too. Under Hu Jintao, the Standing Committee had nine members. Xi has reduced that to seven, and it is possible a reduction to five could take place, centered around Xi. They will, in effect, be some of the most powerful men in the world, and will ultimately be responsible for driving China into the 2030’s. So, who are these people?

The Party secretaries of Chongqing, Guangdong, Hubei, and Shanghai all hold politically strong powerbases and hold vitally strategic areas of China. At present, these positions are held by the following individuals – although jostling for power and holding onto these roles will remain a question of intrigue. Whether or not they are still in these positions come the 20th Party Congress remains to be seen, but at present these are the incumbents:

Chongqing: Chen Min’er

Chen was appointed Party Secretary of Chongqing in July 2017, following a similar role in Guizhou. Born in 1960 in Zhejiang, he studied Chinese at Shaoxing University rising to Vice Mayor in Ningbo, and later, Vice Governor of Zhejiang when Xi was the Party Secretary.

Chongqing has a population of 32 million (similar to Malaysia) and a nominal GDP of US$362 billion, similar to that of Vietnam.

Guangdong: Li Xi

Li was born in Gansu in October 1956 and became Party Secretary of Guangdong in October 2017. Much of his career has been in North-West China, meaning he is familiar with the issues in Xinjiang. A graduate of NorthWest Normal University, where he graduated in Chinese language and literature. His career took him from Gansu to Shaanxi, then Liaoning where he previously served as Provincial Governor.

Guangdong has a population of 126 million (similar to Japan) and a nominal GDP of US$1.6 trillion (similar to that of Australia).

Hubei: Ying Yong

Ying became Party Secretary of Hubei province in February 2020, promoted from his position as Mayor of Shanghai when it was felt the previous incumbent’s role in preventing the Covid-19 outbreak was insufficient. Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei, reported the first outbreaks. Ying was born in Zhejiang in 1957 and holds a law degree from Hangzhou University.

Hubei has a population of some 58 million (similar to Italy) and a nominal GDP of US$670 billion, similar to that of Thailand.

Shanghai: Li Qiang

Li was born in Zhejiang in 1959, majoring in agricultural mechanization from Zhejiang Agricultural University and with a Master’s in Business Administration from the Central Party School. He became Party Secretary of Shanghai in 2017 having previously served as Governor of Zhejiang and Party Secretary of Jiangsu. He was part of Xi’s team in 2005 on the Provincial Standing Committee and accompanied him on the 2015 visit to the United States.

Shanghai has a population of 25 million (similar to Australia) and a nominal GDP of US$608 billion, roughly equivalent to that of Sweden.

Xi Jinping meanwhile was born in Beijing in 1953. His Father, Xi Zhongxun had held positions as Chinese Vice-Premier and Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee and is regarded as a key figure in post-war CPC politics, although that didn’t prevent his son from being delegated to the countryside early in his career. Xi gradually rose into politics after an education as a chemical engineer, with his first significant postings being in Hebei, Fujian, and Zhejiang Provinces. It should be noted that this stage of his career was when he formed close relations with the current Party Secretaries. Xi also spent time as Party Secretary in Shanghai before moving to Beijing in 2007 to join the then Politburo at the 17th Party Congress.

Changes always occur in politics, although it appears the Party Secretaries mentioned are all part of the Xi clique. There will be some jostling for power however assuming that these individuals have shown themselves compatible with Xi’s lack of tolerance for corruption, it can be reasonably predicted at this time that the next Politburo may well be made up of these Gentlemen: an Engineer, two Chinese language Scholars, a Lawyer, and an Agricultural Mechanic.

The Biden administration by comparison is largely made up of career politicians with backgrounds in political science – four of the six most senior members – meaning democratic and capitalist theories can prevail above pragmatism. The contrast between them and the possible new Chinese politburo could not be more apparent – and suggests there may be little in common in future years until the United States can generate a more balanced educational overview into its politicians.

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