Xi Jinping

Real interest is in what's not on plenum agenda

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2009, 12:00am

The convictions last week of Taiwanese former president Chen Shui-bian and most of his close family members for corruption made banner headlines around the world.

It had a sharp impact on Chinese everywhere, particularly on the mainland, as Chen is the first freely elected Chinese state leader to be convicted of criminal offences, and his corruption scandal is largely responsible for the Democratic Progressive Party's fall from power.

As the state media on the mainland gleefully played up the shocking scale of corruption involving almost all his immediate family members - his wheelchair-bound wife, son, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law - many mainlanders could not help but associate the family's scandal with the rampant corruption involving children and other relatives of Beijing officials.

Indeed, the convictions could not have come at a better time. It should sound a loud alarm for several hundred top mainland officials who are converging on the capital for the fourth plenum of the Communist Party's 17th Central Committee, which begins tomorrow.

It is unlikely that anyone will mention the Chen scandal at the four-day meeting, for which the sole item on the agenda is to discuss how to strengthen ways to keep the party in power, with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic coming just two weeks later.

But the unspoken message is clear and simple. By the party's own consensus, the success or failure in fighting corruption will determine its life or death, so finding effective ways to curb it - particularly reining in close family members of high-ranking officials - should be the key part of the debate at the meeting. For most mainlanders it is not difficult to see reflections of the Chen family scandal in their own government officials.

Citing statistics, the mainland's anti-graft investigators have said almost all corruption cases that brought down high-ranking officials in the past few decades involved their wives, children and other immediate family members soliciting bribes or using the influence of the officials to make personal gains in business transactions.

Given that the Chen scandal occurred in a thriving democracy where the media is free and inquisitive, the Communist Party would have to do more than the Taiwanese authorities.

So whether the plenum releases specific and effective measures to fight corruption, instead of making a general statement, should be an essential measure of the success of the meeting.

And while the item that is on the agenda of the plenum will be interesting to watch, those not on the agenda but most likely to trigger intense discussions will be even more interesting.

The plenary session is highly likely to discuss the motion to appoint Vice-President Xi Jinping as the deputy chairman of the party's Central Military Commission (CMC), the highest command of the People's Liberation Army. The appointment, if confirmed, will formally establish Xi's status as the successor to President Hu Jintao, who is the CMC chairman.

The intense speculation has stemmed mainly from the party's tradition on following precedents. Hu was made deputy CMC chairman at the fourth plenum of the party's 15th Central Committee in 1999, paving the way for him to take over as the party boss at the 16th party congress in 2002.

Following the precedent, Xi's supporters believe he should receive the same treatment at this plenum before taking over from Hu at the 18th congress in 2012.

Since being inducted into the party's Politburo Standing Committee in 2007, Xi has taken on the portfolio focusing on party affairs, which used to belong to Hu, and has proved capable of handling complex matters including leading the task force to ensure the success of the Beijing Olympics.

Another off-the-agenda item likely to be discussed involves the party's policies on ethnic minorities in the context of the violence in Xinjiang . While the leadership has publicly insisted there is nothing wrong with its policies and the deadly riots were triggered and spread by separatists, the internal debates are likely to add pressure on leaders to launch a comprehensive review.

Many officials have argued internally that Xinjiang officials have failed to bring stability since deadly violence broke out on July 5. They also say the fact that neither the Han majority nor the minorities are happy in Xinjiang clearly shows the policies need a frank review.

The recent outbreak of hypodermic needle attacks, which caused widespread panic but less harm, has clearly demonstrated the deep mistrust between minority groups and the Han.

Moreover, Xinjiang officials' ridiculous claims that Hong Kong reporters incited violence showed that those officials are both clueless and desperate.