Xi Jinping has finally been announced as Hu Jintao’s successor as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), confirming a long-known secret as to who will lead China for the next decade. As a “princeling” – a man descended from one of the CCP’s founders (in this case Xi Zhongxun) – Xi Jinping maintains the symbolic link between modern China and its revolutionary forebears.
Perhaps more interestingly, Xi has been joined on the Politburo Standing Committee – the supreme power-making body of China – by a group of perceived conservatives, suggesting the status quo with regards to political reform in China will remain. Not only have potential political reformers been omitted from the Standing Committee, but the Committee now only consists of seven rather than the previous nine members. Consequently, policy and decision-making power has been centralised to an even greater extent with the “magnificent seven” arguably more powerful than any other individuals on the planet.
There seems no reason to doubt that China will follow the same path it has since the end of Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping’s subsequent opening up of the economy to foreign investment in the 1980s. This, as has been well-documented, has come at the expense of basic political rights for China’s populace and engenders a continual process of uneven development. Indeed, uneven and unequal development (in terms of regional and social differences) is likely to pose the greatest challenge to the new Chinese leadership. Yes, Chinese growth is predicted to slow down but recent history has shown us that the economic monolith created over the past few decades will be difficult to tame. The rich are likely to get richer and the middle-class will continue to expand, fuelling domestic consumption in an economy no longer bound by the frugal instincts of its hardworking employees.
But how serious a threat is posed by the underclass seemingly left behind by the Chinese economic miracle? What of the farmers? What of the ethnic minorities? What of the city centre dwellers crowded out by corporate takeovers and monstrous construction developments? The likelihood is that as long as overall Chinese growth remains stable then the lower classes will stay restrained. They will still have something to aspire to and rural dwellers will continue to flood Chinese cities and occupy the daily-erected tower blocks.
If the economy were to take a surprise downturn then pandering to nationalist causes such as territorial disputes in the East and South China Sea, trade disputes with the “imperialist” USA and WWII grievances with Japan may retain the support of the sleeping masses whose unity alone could threaten the CCP’s predominance.
As for the ethnic clashes and protests in China’s far flung provinces, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, they are but a nuisance to the CCP. The government will continue to give no ground and ruthlessly repress any serious separatist threat. Because of the vast Han majority in the country, the ordinary Chinese man, however poor, does not share a cause with his ethnic “inferiors”.
So, it appears business as usual for China in the coming decade. Whether the country’s rise brings it further into conflict with the USA or Japan, and whether ethnic unrest and unequal development continue to persist, we are assured that the new seven member Politburo Standing Committee will remain tightly bound to the party protocols that have served China so well.