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Round Table Discussion on Post Leadership Transition Analyses in China

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  • November 20, 2012
    Round Table

    IDSA organised a Round Table Discussion on the subject of Post Leadership Transition Analyses in China on 20 November. Amb (retd) TCA Rangachari chaired this discussion. Prof. Madhu Bhalla, Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, Maj Gen SL Narsimhan, Cdr KK Agnihotri and Brig Mandip Singh presented their views on the leadership transition. A large number of scholars from inside and outside IDSA attended this discussion.

    Major Highlights of the Presentations:

    • The 18th Party Congress report suggests that the CPC’s internal dynamics are still in an evolutionary stage.
    • Hu’s report as the outgoing General Secretary is not a statement of the collective will of the Party but indicative of the internal debates on matters of policy which are ongoing within the Party.
    • Debates on “Scientific Outlook on Development” indicate fissures within the Party.
    • Use of theory is only to the extent that it helps construct the economic model when there is in fact none in reality.
    • Financial crisis has been seen as a systemic crisis of capitalism; there is a view that the liberal economic policy adopted since 1978 needs a correction.
    • Another point of debate is between further reforms versus deepening welfare policies. Reforms cannot be held back. There is also greater confidence in the state’s capacity to deal with these issues based on the increased capacity.
    • The reports of the 18th Party Congress were generally more silent on strategic issues, compared to the 16th and 17th Party Congresses which brought clear strategic direction on the table. The 18th Party Congress focussed on four major points but nothing was substantially different from the previous reports.
    • Firstly, it mentioned that China is facing unprecedented opportunities and challenges, the former mainly economic and the latter territorial and strategic.
    • Secondly, it mentioned that China’s “core interests” shall be protected while reminding that the Chinese have recently expanded the definition of “core interests”.
    • Thirdly, the reports specifically mentions about the potential of soft power.
    • Lastly, they also mention that China would take steps in its military modernisation commensurate to its international standing.
    • Regarding change and continuity it was opined that according to Chinese tradition, at least two to three years would pass before any bold change is initiated.
    • China and US will continue to ‘shadow box’ will one another.
    • The new political alignment suggests concern over provinces that were doing better in the days of growth; new issues of labour, social unrest and corruption are biggest challenges for the party and economy. As a corollary, mid-west and west will continue to see slow and tardy progress.
    • Political reform was 6th on the priority of agenda’s in the 16th Party Congress while it was on the top of 18th Party Congress priorities. China’s politics is unlikely to take a liberal-democratic shape but there will be a general consensus on broadening the mandate of the Party by making it more representative. However, it will continue to be a ‘top-down’ institution.
    • The 18th Party Congress constitution calls for the need for democracy to be visible. It proposes ‘deliberative democracy’ and not ‘liberal democracy’ and a greater voice of the people at the grassroot/village level.
    • Party’s legitimacy is dependent on the will of the people and corrective measures are likely to the extent of ensuring legitimacy.
    • Another anxiety is to do with the gap between decision-making and implementation and it has to do with the quality of the cadre at lower levels which is diluted after the Three Represents formulation; party membership has become a career securing tool. At the same time, the princeling-party nexus is hurting the image of the party.
    • China’s economy has escaped the logic of the Party in many areas. Endemic corruption is almost ‘acceptable’ and there is a feeling in some quarters that this was used as an excuse to weed out Bo Xilai, who posed an ideological challenge to the consensus.
    • It was felt that the PLA Army was probably made to give away more space to its counterparts i.e. Navy and Air Force and the new leadership structure reflects a trend towards more professionalism than the earlier focus on political ideology. Tenures for Commanders of PLAN, PLAAF and SAC tend to be longer ensuring continuity.
    • It was noted that the new CMC leadership lacked anyone with command experience from the Chengdu MAC, perhaps indicating that the military issues relating to India have taken a back seat in Chinese strategic thinking, for the present. However, this needs to be seen in the larger prism of the area being responsible for operations in TAR which remains a “core interest”.
    • Gen Ma Xiaotian, who has recently returned from a trip to India, may be roped in for strategic thinking on India related issues in China and PLA.
    • The transition has resulted in new Commanders in four out of China’s seven MACs. This lends credibility to the fact that professional and operational experience is rewarded.
    • According to the General Secretary’s report, the 253 km long Lhasa-Xigatse rail line is likely to be completed next year and work would begin on the recently announced 435 km long Lhasa-Nyingchi rail project. This is part of the proposed 1900 km long Sichuan-Lhasa rail link project.
    • The vacant post of the third Vice Chairman of the CMC would most probably be filled by the incumbent Vice President of the state sometime in March 2013.
    • China’s overall maritime capacity will increase as economy and trade’s dependence on maritime resources grows. Maritime expansion, including that of the PLA-N is linked with the great power ambitions.
    • There is increasing domain knowledge specialisation to expand maritime capacity; it can be seen in expansion of various kinds of shipbuilding capacities both in commercial and warship construction. This growing capacity and will manifested in assertive action recently in the maritime disputes in South and East China Seas.

    Other Points of Discussion

    • Hu Jintao’s lineage will continue through the protégés in CMC and Politburo.
    • Factional lines are not clear but overlap to a large extent. Factions have strategic unity but tactical differences.
    • There is a general consensus on how to preserve the status quo and party’s supremacy.
    • Going by some of the selections that did not happen it is clear that the party does not like individual style leadership but prefers consensus. This will lead to further institutionalization of the Chinese politics.
    • Fear of chaos and problems associated with representative democracy create fears about liberal democracy.
    • Tibet is viewed as a developmental challenge and not as a ethnic-religious-cultural issue.
    • Xi is reform oriented and known as ‘Mr Do it’. He visited India in 1991 as Fujian Party boss. There is strong view that India-China trade will get a fillip with Xi at the helm.
    • Xi’s association with the Tibet Work Forum meetings as Chair since early this year suggests that he is likely to be deeply involved in Tibet issues.
    • Li Keqiang is in charge of the 12th Five Year Plan implementation the ‘Western Development’ strategy.

    Report prepared by Avinash Godbole, Research Assistant and Bijoy Das, Research Associate, IDSA.