China’s Communist Party congress offered the first clues on a generational leadership change on Wednesday as Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang took the first step to the presidency and premiership, respectively.
In a brief dispatch, Xinhua news agency said Vice President Xi and Vice Premier Li had both been elected to the party’s Central Committee at the end of a key congress, though that result was never really in any doubt.
The 2,270 carefully vetted delegates cast their votes behind closed doors in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People for the new Central Committee, a ruling council with around 200 full members and 170 or so alternate members with no voting rights.
The committee will in turn, on Thursday, appoint a Politburo of a few dozen members and a Politburo Standing Committee, the innermost ring of power with possibly seven members, reduced from the current nine.
Xi has long been expected to take over from Hu Jintao, first as party chief and then as president when parliament meets for its annual session in March. Li is Premier Wen Jiabao’s designated heir.
All the other eight leading officials who have been tipped as possible members of the Standing Committee also made it on to the Central Committee, according to Xinhua.
That includes North Korean-trained economist Zhang Dejiang, financial guru Wang Qishan, minister of the party’s organization department Li Yuanchao, Tianjin’s party boss Zhang Gaoli, and the conservative Liu Yunshan, who has kept domestic media on a tight leash.
Wang has been elected onto the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s internal corruption fighting watchdog, Xinhua said, paving the way for him to become its head, also as expected.
Wang Yang, Guangdong province’s reform-minded party boss, Shanghai party chief Yu Zhengsheng and the lone woman among the contenders, Liu Yandong, were elected on to the Central Committee as well.
After days of turgid speeches and rhetorical displays of party unity, the five-yearly congress unanimously approved Hu’s “state of the nation” work report and approved a revision to the party charter further enshrining Hu’s theory of sustainable and equitable development.
Hu’s work report warned that corruption threatened the party’s rule and the state, but said the party must stay in charge as it battles growing social unrest.
Tiananmen Square, next to the Great Hall, has been decked out with large red flags and huge television screens showing clunky propaganda films all week, as the rest of city was put under a tight ring of security.
More than slogans, the membership of these elite bodies should foretell economic and political policy direction in the years ahead, how much influence Hu will retain and who, looking a decade ahead, could be China’s next leaders.
The Central Committee then chooses the Politburo and the Standing Committee, possibly with more candidates than seats for the first time, sources with ties to the leadership have told Reuters.
The membership of the two elite bodies could give an idea of China’s political and economic direction, especially if it ends being dominated by conservatives instead of those with a reputation to push reform.
Advocates of reform are pressing Xi to cut back the privileges of state-owned firms, make it easier for rural migrants to settle in cities, fix a fiscal system that encourages local governments to live off land expropriations and, above all, tether the powers of a state that they say risks suffocating growth and fanning discontent.