Mystery, little substance, in plenum's wake
In the coming days and weeks, the mainland's massive propaganda machine looks set to launch a nationwide campaign to exhort the 70 million Communist Party members to study a document, passed at last week's annual meeting of the party's Central Committee, on how to strengthen the party's control.
The People's Daily has already hailed it as the party's guiding document in the foreseeable future, even though its details are being kept under wraps.
But the communique issued at the end of the fourth plenum of the 17th Central Committee appears to suggest that the document contains lofty ideals on boosting intra-party democracy and fighting corruption, and not substance. For the overseas media and analysts, the results of the plenum contain a mixture of surprises and disappointments.
The biggest surprise is that Vice-President Xi Jinping apparently failed to secure elevation to the post of deputy chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, which would have confirmed his status as the heir apparent to President Hu Jintao .
As Xi's promotion was widely speculated before the meeting, the lack of an announcement took observers and analysts by surprise.
Analysts had generally expected the party leadership to follow the precedent and promote Xi, mainly because Hu was made deputy chairman of CMC at the fourth plenum of the 15th Central Committee, cementing his position to become party chief at the 16th congress and later president and the chairman of the CMC.
This had understandably led to intense speculation over whether Xi's position as heir apparent is weakened or whether there is strong resistance to his promotion within the military because of his lack of military experience.
Given the utmost secrecy surrounding the leadership succession issue, it is difficult to fathom what really happened. But the simplest explanation could well be that the party failed to reach a consensus and Xi's appointment will be discussed at next year's plenum.
The speculation that Xi's star has dimmed is premature. He became heir apparent at the 17th party congress when he was voted onto the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee in 2007 and became vice-president early last year.
He is considered the person most acceptable to the party's main factions, including Hu's Communist Youth League, former president Jiang Zemin's Shanghai faction and the emerging faction led by the former vice-president Zeng Qinghong. This last group includes Xi and many other princelings - or the children of party elders.
Xi's lack of strong military experience can hardly be a reason to deny his promotion because neither Hu nor Jiang had any military experience before they were voted onto the Central Military Commission.
In fact, trawling Xi's resume reveals that he served in the CMC's General Office in the early 1980s, and many of the princelings have taken up important positions in the military.
Some analysts have suggested that Xi's appointment may have been approved but will be announced after the National Day celebrations, but that is also unlikely.
Despite its secretive nature, the party can no longer afford to delay the announcement of such an important decision.
Another surprise or disappointment is that both the central committee plenum and the annual meeting of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's anti-corruption watchdog, failed to come up with any effective measures to curb rampant official corruption - a key complaint of ordinary mainlanders.
One of the few new details is that the anti-graft watchdog said it would require cadres to report the properties, investments and jobs of their spouses and children.
It also called for better management of those officials whose spouses and children have emigrated, an apparent attempt to prevent them from fleeing the country with the dirty money.
But all those reportings, it appears, will be internal - a far cry from the earlier suggestions in the state media of a sunshine law, which required officials to declare their assets publicly.