Thursday, 29 December 2011

The way of the dragon

Greater China will be looking to draw on all the symbolism of the mythical creature in 2012 as it confronts transition and a world in a state of flux


Guanyu 道 said...

The way of the dragon

Greater China will be looking to draw on all the symbolism of the mythical creature in 2012 as it confronts transition and a world in a state of flux

Cary Huang in Beijing
29 December 2011

The dragon is rich in symbolism - strength, power and wealth - linked to the mythical creature and its ancient associations with the Middle Kingdom and its emperor.

As the Year of the Dragon dawns with a long list of potential pitfalls for Greater China, the dragon’s qualities will be sought after by many observers in search of good omens.

The new year promises turbulence as it ushers in changes of government on the mainland, in Taiwan and in Hong Kong. Then there’s the presidential election in the United States, whose relations with China have become a key focus of global diplomacy.

Power transitions have a way of disturbing the orderly course of affairs, whether or not they are achieved by universal suffrage.

“The focus for China in 2012 is the power transition at the 18th Communist Party Congress,” said Liu Kang, a China watcher and director at Duke University’s China Research Centre in the US.

He was referring to the once-in-a-decade transition of power in which President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will relinquish their main Communist Party posts in late 2012 and their government posts in early 2013.

This will make way for a new generation of leaders, most likely led by Vice-President Xi Jinping, who will succeed Hu, while VicePremier Li Keqiang is in line to take over from Wen.

A further focus will be on whether Hu will remain chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army, like his predecessor Jiang Zemin. Staying on would give him more sway over his successors.

While the two most senior positions appear to have been settled before any “votes” are cast, many other senior jobs are still up for grabs. Many of the 25 members of the Politburo, akin to the cabinet, and most of the key Politburo Standing Committee’s nine members retire in 2012.

Cheng Li, director of research and a senior fellow with the John L. Thornton China Centre at the Brookings Institution, said the daunting challenges facing China made it more important than ever to understand the changes in the composition of the Standing Committee.

After next year’s reshuffle, newcomers will hold most of the reins controlling the country’s political and ideological affairs, economic and financial administration, foreign policy, public security and military operations.

“China’s emerging leaders are likely to rule the world’s most populous country for the better part of this decade and beyond,” Li said in his paper entitled “The Battle for China’s Top Nine Leadership Posts”, published by The Washington Quarterly last week. “Meanwhile, they will have to deal collectively with many daunting challenges as the people’s republic confronts an unstable and complex environment domestically and globally.”

Hu Xingdou, a commentator with the Beijing University of Technology, expects a power struggle to be focused on the distribution of seats among factions in either the Politburo or Standing Committee.

“Up-and-coming cadres, particularly those tipped for promotion, are trying to consolidate their power base within the establishment, while retiring leaders are also seeking to ensure that their proteges and close allies get promotions to fill the other remaining key positions,” Hu said.

“The composition of the new Standing Committee - especially the generational attributes and individual idiosyncratic characteristics, group dynamics, and the factional balance of power - will have profound implications for China’s economic priorities, social stability, political trajectory and foreign relations.”

Guanyu 道 said...

As the outside world confronts the leadership transition with little insight into the palace intrigues in Zhongnanhai, Hu Xingdou said he expected the reshuffle to be as orderly as the previous one, when Hu and Wen took over from Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji a decade ago.

Many China watchers agree that while Chinese politics is largely guided by the norms of conformity and unity, underlying rivalries can sometimes break out into ideological struggles, sparking open debate about various political, social and economic issues.

An ideological tussle is heating up between two of the most prominent factions, headed by Bo Xilai, the charismatic party chief of Chongqing, and Wang Yang, the chief of Guangdong province. Both are the most prominent candidates for the Standing Committee. Their policy debates dwell on “cake making” and “cake sharing” - also known as elitist or populist policies.

In public comments and campaigning, Bo says wealth distribution should be the top priority, to address social inequality. Wang rejects that, arguing that free-market reform and further market openness - embracing economic globalisation - is the solution to China’s economic and social problems. Bo succeeded Wang as head of the party in Chongqing, and his high-profile crackdown on organised crime highlighted Wang’s failure to do so during his tenure there.

The clash between the two has led to a nationwide debate over the merits and flaws of the “Chongqing model” and the “Guangdong model”.

Liu said the debate had focused on defining socialist “core values”, “cultural soft power” and universal values, which was raised and soon muffled by the top ideological machinery - the Central Party School.

He said the guidelines on ideological issues reached by the party plenum before the 18th congress apparently left some room for the next leadership to cook up a new ideological concept. Jiang did this with his “theory of three represents”, then Hu with his “harmonious society” and “scientific outlook”, Liu noted.

“The question of ideology, which is centrally related to political legitimacy, will inevitably rise again in 2012. We should watch closely to what extent such a question will influence the power transition and next leadership’s political agenda,” Liu said.

With less than a year to go before the handover of power, there is still much uncertainty about the make-up of the next generation of leaders and the direction in which they will take the country.

Easier to predict are internal power struggles that will slow policymaking and hinder government efforts to grapple with contentious decisions.

Also likely is a tightening of controls on political dissent and the media - the authorities’ normal pattern during previous seasons of political sensitivity.

“While preparing for a power transition, the leadership as a whole will be less tolerant of any political dissent outside the establishment, tightening its grip over the media and dealing with protests and riots with more determined actions,” Hu Xingdou said.

Analysts see little chance of mass unrest challenging party rule anytime soon. More likely is public discontent and anger - spread and magnified by the internet - flaring into nationwide controversies as economic growth slows. Public confidence in the government may erode, they warn, if inflation worsens as the government loosens its monetary-tightening policy to contain prices.

Leaders’ fears of social unrest have been heightened this year by the worry of contagion from antiauthoritarian uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. Another worrying development for China’s leaders is uncertainty about North Korea’s new regime following the death of dictator Kim Jong-il.

The presidential election in Taiwan next month will become another point of political debate within the communist leadership if the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party takes over power from mainland-friendly Kuomintang leader Ma Ying-jeou.

Guanyu 道 said...

In an age already fraught with uncertainty, China’s politics are about to add a new dimension of risk for investors in the world’s second-largest economy.

Perhaps the Chinese zodiac dragon will bolster their courage as they place their bets, with its legendary courage in facing challenges and cleverly overcoming barriers to success.

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