Succession of power in the People's Republic of China

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The succession of power in the People's Republic of China (PRC) takes place in the context of a single party system.[1] Despite the guarantee of universal franchise in the constitution, the appointment of the Paramount Leader lies largely in the hands of his predecessor and the powerful factions that control the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The appointment of the leader of the world’s most populous country occurs after two five year terms in accordance with the Constitution of the People's Republic of China.[2]

Structure of Power[edit]

It is generally accepted that the Paramount leader of China holds these three official titles:

In the past it was possible for the Paramount Leader to wield absolute power without holding any official office. This was the case with Deng Xiaoping who was the undisputed leader from 1978 to 1992 without holding any official offices. Since his retirement, power has become more structured with the leader holding all three of the previously mentioned offices.

History[edit]

The concept of Paramount Leader was instituted during the era of Mao Zedong. The position was further established under Deng Xiaoping, however the term Paramount Leader has not been officially attributed to any other leaders. Since the retirement of Deng Xiaoping in 1992, political power in China has been held collectively by the members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China. The General Secretary may be best described as primus inter pares, first among equals. Because the proceedings of this body are considered a state secret, the inner workings of Politburo are not made public. It is clear, however, that decision making has become consensus driven and that no single figure can any longer act unilaterally as in the days of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.[3]

Constitutional Mechanism[edit]

Constitutional power in the People's Republic of China is held by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCCPC). Although this group of approximately 300 members does not have power in the same way as a traditional legislative body, the most important and senior officials of the Chinese government are all members.

Within the CCCPC is the Politburo of the Communist Party of China. This body is a group of 25 individuals (currently 23 men and two women) who govern the Communist Party of China (CCP). Theoretically, the Politburo is elected by the CCCPC; however, in practice any new member of the Politburo is chosen by the current members. Politburo members hold positions in China's national government and regional positions of power simultaneously thereby consolidating the CCP’s power.

In the case of key policy decisions, topics are addressed in the Politburo which then determines actions to be taken by the national and local government. The policy direction for the entire country rests in the hands of these 25 individuals who meet together once a month. Admission into the Politburo is extremely difficult. Tight control over the body is exercised by current members who vet potential members carefully to maintain the balance of power. Good political relationships within the Politburo are essential for admittance into the group. All members of the Politburo are elected for five year terms.[4]

18th Politburo In stroke order of surnames:

Hanzi Name Yob K Office(s)
习近平 Xi Jinping
1953
General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
President of the People's Republic of China
Chairman of the Central Military Commission
李克强 Li Keqiang
1955
Premier of the State Council
栗战书 Li Zhanshu
1950
Chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee
汪洋 Wang Yang
1955
Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference
王沪宁 Wang Huning
1955
Secretary of the Central Secretariat (first-ranked)
赵乐际 Zhao Leji
1957
Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
韩正 Han Zheng
1954
Vice Premier of the State Council (first-ranked)
丁薛祥 Ding Xuexiang
1962
Director of the General Office
王晨 Wang Chen
1950
Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
刘鹤 Liu He
1952
Vice Premier of the State Council
许其亮 Xu Qiliang
1950
§ Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
孙春兰 Sun Chunlan
1950
Vice Premier of the State Council
李希 Li Xi
1956
Party Secretary of Guangdong
李强 Li Qiang
1959
Party Secretary of Shanghai
李鸿忠 Li Hongzhong
1956
Party Secretary of Tianjin
胡春华 Hu Chunhua
1963
Vice Premier of the State Council
杨洁篪 Yang Jiechi
1950
Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs
杨晓渡 Yang Xiaodu
1953
Director of the National Supervisory Commission
张又侠 Zhang Youxia
1950
§ Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
陈希 Chen Xi
1953
Head of the Organization Department
陈全国 Chen Quanguo
1955
Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
陈敏尔 Chen Min'er
1960
Party Secretary of Chongqing
郭声琨 Guo Shengkun
1954
Secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission
黄坤明 Huang Kunming
1956
Head of the Propaganda Department
蔡奇 Cai Qi
1955
Party Secretary of Beijing

Power within the Politburo is further concentrated in the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China. This group of seven members meets together weekly and is led by the General Secretary.[5]

18th Politburo Standing Committee Ordered in political position ranking

  1. Xi Jinping
  2. Li Keqiang
  3. Zhang Dejiang
  4. Yu Zhengsheng
  5. Liu Yunshan
  6. Wang Qishan
  7. Zhang Gaoli

The election of executive leadership in the PRC is done through a process that can best be described as an indirect election. In this system, only one candidate stands for the election of any given position. Although other candidates are not allowed to formally run, write in candidates are permitted. In 2013, when the 12th National People's Congress elected Xi Jinping as president, 2952 members voted in favor and one against, with three abstentions. Similarly, in the 2008 election, Hu Jintao, then-General Secretary, President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, was re-elected by a landside. Of the 2985 members of the 11th National People's Congress, only 3 voted against Hu Jintao with another 5 abstaining.

Practical Mechanism[edit]

In practical terms, the National Congress provides a rubber stamp on a decision that is made by the Politburo and the Standing Committee. The transition of leadership can take several months. For instance, when Hu Jintao took over power from Jiang Zemin, the transition of power stretched out almost 2 years. Listed below are the dates on which Hu was appointed to each office.

  • General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (November 2002)
  • President of the People's Republic of China (March 2003)
  • Chairman of the Central Military Commission (September 2004)

Usually the office of Chairman of the Central Military Commission is the last office handed over by the previous leader, in order to secure political influence and ensure political continuity.

Most Recent Transition[edit]

Appointments to key offices are the best predictor of who the next leader will be. The office of Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) is seen by many as the last stop before becoming the leader of China. Appointment to this position is so crucial that when Xi Jinping, the current General Secretary failed to achieve this office at the 4th Plenum in 2009, many analysts suggested that he had fallen from favor and would not be the next leader of the PRC. His ultimate appointment to Vice Chairman of the CMC was seen as evidence that he had begun to consolidate his power and would ultimately succeed Hu Jintao when his term expired in 2012 at the 18th party congress.[6]

Absent a transparent electoral process, the appointment to key positions is the only way to predict future leadership in the PRC. Note in the table below, the path that Xi Jinping followed from a low level party official at the age of 30 to his current position of the leader of the largest country in the world.

Xi Jinping's Corresponding Political and Military Postings, 1983-2007

Years Political Position Military Position
1983-85 First secretary, Zhengding County, Hebei Province party committee First political commissar and first secretary of the Party committee of People’s Armed Forces Department of Zhengding County, Hebei Province
1988-90 Secretary of the CPC Ningde Prefectural Committee, Fujian Province First secretary of the Party committee of Ningde Sub-Military Area Command
1990-93 Secretary of the CPC Fuzhou Municipal Committee and chairman of the Standing Committee of the Fuzhou Municipal People’s Congress First secretary of the Party committee of Fuzhou Sub-Military Area Command
1995-96 Deputy secretary of the CPC Fujian Provincial Committee, secretary of the CPC Fuzhou Municipal Committee and chairman of the Standing Committee of the Fuzhou Municipal People’s Congress First secretary of the Party committee of Fuzhou Sub-Military Area Command
1996-99 Deputy secretary of the CPC Fujian Provincial Committee First political commissar of the anti-aircraft artillery reserve division of Fujian Provincial Military Area Command
1999-2000 Deputy secretary of the CPC Fujian Provincial Committee and acting governor of Fujian Province Vice director of commission for national defense mobilization of Nanjing Military Area Command, director of Fujian provincial commission for national defense mobilization, first political commissar of antiaircraft artillery reserve division of Fujian Provincial Military Area Command
2000-02 Deputy secretary of the CPC Fujian Provincial Committee and governor of Fujian Province Vice director of commission for national defense mobilization of Nanjing Military Area Command, director of Fujian provincial commission for national defense mobilization, first political commissar of antiaircraft artillery reserve division of Fujian Provincial Military Area Command
2002 Deputy secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee and acting governor of Zhejiang Province Vice director of commission for national defense mobilization of Nanjing Military Area Command, director of Zhejiang provincial commission for national defense mobilization
2002-03 Secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee and acting governor of Zhejiang Province First secretary of the Party committee of Zhejiang Provincial Military Area Command, vice director of commission for national defense mobilization of Nanjing Military Area Command, director of Zhejiang provincial commission for national defense mobilization
2003-07 Secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee and chairman of the Standing Committee of the Zhejiang Provincial People’s Congress First secretary of the Party committee of Zhejiang Provincial Military Area Command
2003-07 Secretary of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee First secretary of the Party committee of Shanghai Garrison

[7]

As long as the Chinese government remains secretive about the inner workings of the Politburo, past behavior will continue to be the most effective tool for predicting future appointments. In this context, the appointment of a candidate to key offices is still the best indicator of their future role. For example, the appointment of Xi Jinping as the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China signposted with a reasonable amount of confidence that he would be the next leader of the People's Republic of China.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Folsom, Ralph (1992). Law and Politics in the People's Republic of China. West Group. pp. 76–77. ISBN 0-314-00999-X.
  2. ^ "Constitution of the People's Republic of China". National People's Congress. Archived from the original on June 9, 2007. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  3. ^ "In China, democracy is only in the Politburo: WikiLeaks". Hindustan Times. December 19, 2010. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  4. ^ Miller, Alice (28 June 2010). "The 18th Central Committee Politburo: A Quixotic, Foolhardy, Rashly Speculative, But Nonetheless Ruthlessly Reasoned Projection" (PDF). China Leadership Monitor. 33. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  5. ^ Miller, Alice (28 June 2010). "The 18th Central Committee Politburo: A Quixotic, Foolhardy, Rashly Speculative, But Nonetheless Ruthlessly Reasoned Projection" (PDF). China Leadership Monitor. 33. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  6. ^ Mulvenon, James (22 February 2011). "Xi Jinping and the Central Military Commission: Bridesmaid or Bride?". China Leadership Monitor. 34. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  7. ^ Mulvenon, James (22 February 2011). "Xi Jinping and the Central Military Commission" Bridesmaid or Bride?". China Leadership Monitor. 34. Retrieved 30 March 2011.