Chinese Politics: A Review

On October 14, 2014, I wrote a note considering some developments in Chinese politics that had occurred in the preceding year (since an earlier post on September 26, 2013). This is a continuation of that effort, updating things since the October 2014 post.

In my 2014 post, I suggested that “Xi’s intention to move quickly to consolidate his leadership position seems increasingly clear, and politically, he seems to be operating with an increasingly deft hand.” I also wrote that “with the property sector cooling off and economic growth in the PRC coming in on the low side of expectations, all of Xi’s political skills are likely to be put to the test as economic constraints begin to tighten.” As far as Zhou Yongkang (former Politburo Standing Committee member, PRC security czar, and chairman of CNPC) and Ling Jihua (former director of the General Office of the CCP Central Committee and one of Hu Jintao’s key lieutenants) were concerned, I suggested “official confirmation of Zhou’s dramatic fall seems to be only a matter of timing, and the pieces seem to be falling into place for another run at Ling Jihua.” Finally, I also speculated that “if the two stories [of Xu Caihou, former Poliburo member and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, being expelled from the Communist Party and turned over to military prosecutors for a court martial and of Wang Jiankang, Ling Jihua’s broter-in-law, re-emerging in public] represent a slowing of Xi’s efforts to go after Hu and a ratcheting up of pressure on Jiang, that would be news indeed.”

Well, a year later, how do things stand?

The observation that Xi is moving quickly to consolidate his leadership position seems increasingly validated by events over the past year. Whether or not he has operated with a deft hand may be debated, but his anti-corruption efforts have now bagged five “tigers”: Zhou Yongkang (周永康), Ling Jihua (令计划), Xu Caihou (徐才厚), Guo Boxiong (郭伯雄), and Su Rong (苏荣) – not an insignificant haul.

As evidenced by recent declines in PRC equity markets and the dollar value of the yuan, China’s economy also seems increasingly constrained. For the majority of July, 2014, the Shanghai Composite Index was running around 2,000. By the end of the year, it was 50% higher, and on June 5, 2015, it passed 5,000. A couple days later, the market did a quick U-turn, and by the end of the summer, it had lost roughly 2,000 points (equal to a decline of 40% from its high). After treading water for much of the fall, the beginning of 2016 has also been dismal, with the market having fallen from roughly 3,500 to 2,700 over the course of the first month of the year. While the dollar value of the renminbi has been more stable, the trend there has also been down. On July 30th, 2015, the RMB fell 1.85% against the U.S. dollar, and over a three day period between August 10th and August 13th, the renminbi fell another 3%. All told, between May 17th, 2015, and January 31st, 2016, the RMB has fallen about 8% against the USD.

As far as Zhou Yongkang is concerned, on December 5, 2014, it was officially announced that Zhou Yongkang had been expelled from the Communist Party and arrested (BBC, 12/06/2014). On April 3, 2015, he was charged with bribery, abuse of power and intentional disclosure of state secrets (Xinhua, 04/03/2015). On June 11, 2015, it was announced that Zhou had been found guilty of all three charges, receiving life imprisonment for bribery, seven years for abusing power, and four years for deliberately revealing state secrets (CNN, 06/11/2015).

As for Ling Jihua, it was officially announced that he had been placed under investigation by the party’s anti-graft unit on December 22, 2014 (BBC, 12/22/2014), and on December 31, 2014, it was reported that Ling Jihua had been dismissed as head of the United Front Work Department (Bloomberg, 12/31/2014). Subsequently, it was reported that, on July 20, 2015, Ling had been expelled from the Communist party and would likely be prosecuted for criminal charges (Xinhua, 07/20/2015).

In short, nearly all observations in the post seem to have been bolstered by events of the past year.

The one red herring may have been the conjecture that reports regarding Wang Jiankang and Xu Caihou represented a slowing of efforts to go after Hu and a ratcheting up of pressure on Jiang. In August, 2015, Ling Zhengce, elder brother of Ling Jihua, was expelled from the CCP, paving the way for his prosecution (VoA, 08/21/2015). In addition, in September, 2015, it was reported that Wang Jiankang, Ling Jihua’s brother-in-law, had been removed as deputy mayor of Yuncheng in Shanxi Province (Reuters, 09/15/2015). On top of this, while a February 25th, 2015, article criticizing the evil deeds of Prince Qing (慶親王), a Qing dynasty noble, was interpreted by some as an attack on Jiang Zemin by way of Zeng Qinghong, one of Jiang’s close allies in the 1990s (Financial Times, 02/26/2015), according to Willy Lam at the Jamestown Foundation, nothing seems to have come of this.

All that being said, on April 9, 2015, information that Guo Boxiong had been placed under investigation was disseminated (SCMP, 04/20/2015), and on July 30, 2015, he was expelled from the CCP and his case moved to military prosecutors for processing (Xinhua, 07/30/2015). With two previous vice chairmen of the CMC (Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong) having now been put on ice – both of whom received promotions under Jiang – one might see this as a real attack on the former leader (Bo Zhiye, The Diplomat, 07/31/2015). Then again, they were also promoted under Hu, and according to Alice Miller, determining the ultimate loyalty of PLA leaders cannot be ascertained merely from a simple analysis of military promotions.

Overall, events of the past year seem to indicate continuing pressure on both Jiang and Hu. Of course, given that planning for the 19th Party Congress in 2017 appears to have begun, Lam suggests we may well see a moratorium on corruption investigations against China’s top leaders (“tigers”) in order to assure a relatively smooth period of pre-Congress planning and political horse-trading. Looking over the past year, only one thing seems clear – Chinese politics is rarely boring.


Chinese Politics: A Review

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