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18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
November 26, 2012
By: Katherine Keally | Printer Friendly

The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concluded on November 14 and announced leadership transitions within the CCP. This year Xi Jinping replaced Chinese President Hu Jintao as the party’s new General Secretary and civilian chairman of the military, although Hu will retain his position as President until March 2013.

This was the first time since 1976 that a Chinese leader was given control of the party and the military at the same time, which may make it easier for Xi to consolidate his power rapidly, according to the New York Times. Former Chinese Presidents Hu and Jiang Zemin, as well as retired members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) will still work to exert influence over Chinese leaders on significant policy decisions. The PBSC includes the general secretary and is the highest body of CCP leadership. Xi may eventually press for reforms to work towards an even more open Chinese economy in his second term once his power has been consolidated, though these kinds of economic changes would also require political reform, reported the New York Times.

This year Xi concentrated on corruption and socialism as the main pillars of his speech after confirmation as the new party leader. He affirmed that the CCP should be “proud, but not complacent” due to the party’s corruption problems: “Inside the party, there are many problems that need be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy, and other issues.” Xi also advocated for the CCP to continue developing “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” reported the People’s Daily. According to Xi, China is still in the first stage of socialism, and the party must focus on “keeping the closest ties with the people, maintaining [the] health of Party organs, as well as continuously improving the Party leadership” to both advance socialism and reduce corruption.

This year’s speeches contrasted greatly from those during the 17th party congress when Hu stressed the importance of democracy within China and within the party. According to the Financial Times, he used the word democracy (民主) a total of 69 times in reference to “grassroots democracy, socialist democracy, and ‘intraparty’ democracy.” Hu proposed that “democratic centralism and collective leadership” was needed to “oppose and prevent dictatorial [practices] by individuals or a minority [of leaders],” according to Asia Times Online. In regards to intraparty democracy, Hu stated that the CCP needed to “comprehensively and correctly implement democratic, open, competitive and meritorious” reforms in the nomination of senior party leadership positions; however, Hu did not mention these goals in his report this year. The Asia Times Online attributed the omission to Hu’s dissatisfaction with former President Jiang’s influence in the selection of new Chinese leaders. Retired party elders have been traditionally influential in the party congress’s leadership nominations through an extremely non-transparent process.

Although Hu’s talk of democracy at the 17th party congress went largely unfulfilled, the recent leadership transition has opened up similar possibilities for political reform. With China’s economic growth slowing down, the need for greater political reforms may be necessary to ensure the survival of the CCP. China’s GDP growth declined from 12 percent in 2010, to about 7.5 percent in 2012, and may have consequences on the CCP’s authority, according to the Financial Times. Ren Yi, the grandson of former reformist Chinese leader Ren Zhongyi, suggested that Chinese people both inside and outside of the system believe political reform to be the “next big thing” in China. As China’s economic growth slows, and citizens’ expectations for democracy and rule of law increase, it is possible that the party may reform to ensure its own survival.

However, according to David Shambaugh, professor and director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University, any attempt at political reform in China will face severe obstacles due to a lack of cohesive leadership within the CCP and the mere strength of bureaucratic interest groups that benefit from the current system. Furthermore, it is unknown whether Xi is a true reformer, and even if he is, he will most likely be unable to act upon his convictions due to opposing bureaucratic interests that have stifled the ambitions of assistants to past leaders Hu and Jiang. According to Shambaugh, “when anticipating China’s future after the 18th Party Congress and the potential for reform under Xi Jinping, expect more of the same: authoritarian stagnation and gridlock.”

The party congress brings together over 2,000 delegates from various levels of the CCP to meet every five years in order to produce a political report assessing the party’s development and set forth party guidelines for the next five years. The party congress is also an opportunity to revise the party constitution and implement leadership changes. The Central Committee and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDIC) are elected during the party congress, with the new Central Committee then naming the new Politburo and the members of its standing committee, the new Central Military Commission, the new Secretariat, the new CDIC secretary, and the new general secretary of the CCP.


For more news on China, please see:
Microblogging in China: Free Speech Hurdles the Firewall

Asia Times Online – China's stunning setback to reform

China Leadership Monitor – The Road to the 18th Party Congress

People’s Daily – Full text of Hu Jintao's report at 18th Party Congress

People’s Daily – Xi Jinping urges to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics

The Financial Times – China wrestles with democratic reform

The New York Times – New Communist Party Chief in China Denounces Corruption

The Washington Post –  Don’t expect reform from China’s new leaders



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