China’s new political elite

Published: March 19, 2013

The writer is a PhD Scholar at West Virginia University in the US

Last week, at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China formalised the appointments of Xi Jinping as president and Li Keqiang as premier of China, replacing Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao respectively. China’s political system is a highly complex one. It is very hard to distinguish among the party, the government and the military in China. The new leader, Xi Jinping will don four caps — one, as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), second as the president of the country, third as the chairman of the Central Military Commission, which is the top military post, and fourth, as the head of the Politburo Standing Committee that consists of seven members, the highest decision-making body in China.

Power in China is contingent upon two major factors as defined by Lowell Dittmer — ‘formal office’ and the informal web of  ‘elite connections’ that Chinese refer to as ‘political base’ or zhengzhi jichu. The Party and the government in China are two-in-one, with membership in both the party and the government overlapping. The government is headed by the prime minister chosen by the national legislature (the NPC consisting of 2,949 members), along with the 30-member state council (cabinet) picked by the prime minister himself. The prime minister and his cabinet are responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the government.

However, actual power lies with the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee that is appointed by the central committee of the Party. The general secretary of the CPC/president of China presides over the meetings of this powerful committee. Key decisions regarding foreign and domestic policies are taken by the Politburo Standing Committee. The national legislature, i.e., the NPC, just provides legitimacy to the decisions of the party leadership by giving them its rubber-stamp. Its members are elected by the local township, county, municipal and provincial-level party comrades.

China is not a democracy but a one-party led nation. The CPC is the only official political party that contests elections and holds power. China poses two major threats to the western philosophy of politics, which is based on two major ideas — democracy and capitalism. Democracy and affluency are twins. The dominant theory in politics, ‘democratic peace’, asserts that democracies are less prone to war and do not fight each other. Similarly, the ‘rational choice’ theorists, both in economics and politics, insist that major economies also do not fight. And only democracies are major economic powers. However, China is neither a democracy nor a capitalist economy but has still made huge economic progress, along with having a peaceful foreign policy towards the region and the world. These are the two major challenges before the country’s new leadership, to sustain economic development and make peace with the world, especially with Japan and the West. China’s new political elite has a better understanding of the West compared with its past leadership.

Other major challenges before this new generation of Chinese leaders are massive corruption plaguing the party and state, brain drain, a declining growth rate, poverty, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and socio-political cleavages dividing society. On the foreign policy front, the leadership will have to handle various issues, like disputes over islands and shoals in the South and East China Sea with Japan, cyber-hacking, North Korea’s nuclear issue, and US President Barack Obama’s plan to increase focus on Asia, along with China’s relationship with other countries in the region, including India and Pakistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari had foreseen China’s future economic prospects and, therefore, frequently visited the country to develop trade and business relations. The landmark handover of Gwadar port to China marks the beginning of a new era in Pakistan-China economic relations. Due to its strategic position in the region, Pakistan has the opportunity to promote its economy by developing trade with China. The new century will belong to Asia and Pakistan should not lag behind.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • BlackJack
    Mar 19, 2013 - 1:07PM

    Let us first examine the two theories that you have quoted.
    1. The dominant theory in politics, ‘democratic peace’, asserts that democracies are less prone to war and do not fight each other. This is correct – how many true democracies have been engaged in war with each other in the post-war era? Hardly any.
    2. Similarly, the ‘rational choice’ theorists, both in economics and politics, insist that major economies also do not fight. Up until here everything is fine, although the rational choice theory has questionable utility in economics on account of its inability to factor in consumer behavior and its underlying motivations, and the fact that it assumes perfect information. And only democracies are major economic powers. Where did this come from? This appears to be your own addition to the theory, and is neither rational nor apparently a choice.
    3. However, China is neither a democracy nor a capitalist economy but has still made huge economic progress, along with having a peaceful foreign policy towards the region and the world. Again two faulty assumptions. First – China is a market economy and the role of the state has been diminishing each year; the capitalist characteristics of the state (excluding a planned economy) are unmistakable. Second, I assume that the ‘peaceful foreign policy’ is quoted from the Xinhua or a CPC/ PLA statement – if official statements were to be considered gospel, then the armaments industry would not be growing at 18.6% p.a. globally. China is considered a threat because of the opaque nature of its decision making processes, and its growing ambitions to be seen as a future superpower, which may result in aggression towards its neighbors in the cause of territorial integrity – only the future can tell whether such predictions have any substance.

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  • Noor Fatimah
    Mar 23, 2013 - 3:45PM

    Very informative article.As China is really good at managing its problems though she has never attached the word capitalist or democratic with her name.And for sure Pakistan will definitely get benefit economically if she starts having more trade and other projects with China.All we need is the strong government who could really work on securing the national interest by making strong foreign policy and by following those tactics through which the other states have been solving their problems and made their state stable economically,politically,militarily and culturally.We all need to think rationally in elections while voting any party because definitely a change is needed but change should be the better one.
    Its not enough to say that change is required because change can be of any type but one must say that betterment is required.We all are sick of such condition of Pakistan and its not that easy to bring that change here.We don’t afford to rebuild whole country from the start but we could work on making the present situation better.I hope best for the upcoming time.

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