Friday, November 16, 2012


The P.R. of China has its new Politburo Standing Committee.  The chosen were confirmed in an eerie Beijing that had more in common with some Kafka allegory than with a pro-active political landscape. The 18th Party Congress might as well have taken place on the moon.  Xi Jinping became, as expected, the Communist Party General Secretary and will also become the chairman of the military, a first since Hua Guofeng in 1976.

Beijing took surreal measures to ensure that nothing could intervene with the exhausting rituals. Most people hardly paid attention to the "faites vos jeux." The seven leaders will now have to enter the consensual labyrinth and come out with an agreed political road map. This will not be easy. Remarkably, the former president and party general secretary Jiang Zemin was able to be the grand master behind the manoeuvring.  His proteges and allies constitute a majority block. Only Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan might be considered as close to former President Hu Jintao. It will certainly be interesting to see how brilliant operators like Xi Jinping ,Wang Qishan and Zhang Goli will get along with their peers.

It would be presumptuous to predict how this new leadership will steer the ship of state in these troubled times. Internally, China has manifold problems and the stewardship of the economy looks more and more difficult. China's foreign policy remains basically insecure and paranoid. President Xi might be more pragmatic than President Hu, who often seemed uncomfortable dealing with foreign leaders. Wang Qishan will probably remain in charge of the American treasury nightmare. Fortunately so, the man is exceptional.

In the next few years no major changes should be expected but there might be a more relaxed, less hard-line ideological approach to the various problems that the world at large has to confront. After all, the old, cunning Jiang Zemin and his minions represent a Shanghai line which is often at loggerheads with the Beijing orthodoxy.  One should not read too much inyto this majong political game. The lineup remains more conservative than not, and several of the newcomers will retire in 2017, when the unspoken age limit strikes.  Mr. Xi might then feel free to distance himself from Jiang Zemin's tutelage. Until then he will have his hands full building a power base.  He will be well advised to concentrate in the short term on economic issues, on corruption, and leave the political aggiornamento for later.

Xi's first address avoided the ideology and favoured a notably less formal tone and content, without mention of Marxism-Leninism or Mao.  Instead he spoke briefly about quality of life, education, housing, and environment. This Secretary General will take over from Hu Jintao in March, enough time for sinologists to get over every word, gesture or even body language. There is also enough time for renewed infights, intrigue and power struggles. The consensus which is heralded in the Chinese media still needs a Tiananmen Square cleared of any trace of the April 15/June 4, 1989 arrests, purges, deaths and trials. Shaky agreements are built on the daily censure of souls and minds. Last but not least, the PLA blackmails a party which lacks legitimacy and popularity. The cyberspace is an enemy within and Twitter might well become more threatening than any event in Tibet, the autonomous regions, the South China Sea, Japan or Taiwan. This huge party apparatus sits on a bamboo platform. Bamboo is pliable but major unexpected typhoons might create irreversible damage. This puppet theatre may well end up as a carton box.

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