18th Party Congress

The Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress, held in Beijing November 8-14, 2012, marked a key power transition in China. A new generation of leaders, headed by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, took over from the previous leadership headed by Hu Jintao. The Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee was reduced in number from nine to seven. Unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao handed over both the Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission positions to Xi.  


Seven men who rule a billion

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 11:26am



New man at the top Xi Jinping an enigma

Who is Xi Jinping?

Although he has finally risen to the supreme office in the world's most populous nation and second-largest economic power, Xi Jinping remains an enigmatic cipher - even to many of his fellow Communist Party apparatchiks.

Since his succession was set five years ago, the state media has gone out of its way to paint Xi in a favourable light. He is often depicted as a mature, competent and popular statesman, one meticulously groomed over three decades to rule the party's fifth generation of leaders.

Even so, little is certain about the man himself apart from his prestigious pedigree and the few sketchy details found in his official résumé.

Until now, Xi, 59, has perhaps been best known as the husband of Peng Liyuan , a beloved folk singer and mainstay of state television programmes. Many mainlanders also know him as the "princeling" son of Xi Zhongxun , a revolutionary general and former vice-premier among the first generation of communist leaders.

Is Xi still the man with the common touch, a bit bland and rustic, as he was known during the six years he was "sent down" to his father's birthplace in Fuping county, Shaanxi province to work during the Cultural Revolution?

Is he still the man in a green military uniform who displayed an admirable temperament and a thirst for leadership opportunities during his formative years in Zhengding , Hebei province?

Or is he the same man who bided his time for 17 years in the southeastern province of Fujian , a mediocre politician who knew how to conceal his ambitions and play it safe? The man who successfully kept clear of a major corruption scandal involving smuggling kingpin Lai Changxing ?

Or is he the man who earned a name for being business-friendly during five years in affluent Zhejiang province, receiving praise from former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson as "the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line"?

Many believe the breakthrough in Xi's political career came in 2007, when he was parachuted into the financial centre of Shanghai immediately after the downfall of its party chief, Chen Liangyu .

Xi's rich and lengthy tenure in some of China's most prosperous regions has led many people to speculate that he will be a more reform-minded leader than his cautious predecessor, Hu Jintao .

Although picked as Hu's successor five years ago, Xi's final ascent to power, culminating in his election as general secretary yesterday, had been overshadowed by a slew of damaging scandals, including the downfall of a fellow princeling politician, Bo Xilai . There have also been persistent rumours about factional splits between top leaders.

Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan said the country was unlikely to return to the strongman era of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping . Xi and his generation of leaders cannot follow in the footsteps of Mao or Deng given the collective, consensus-based party approach of the past two decades.

But Professor Kerry Brown, director of the University of Sydney's China Studies Centre, also warned of unrealistic expectations for Xi.

"We have to remember that this leadership is pretty similar in their political backgrounds to the previous ones," Brown said. "They owe everything they are to the party, and will try to serve it no matter what in its attempt to maintain a monopoly of power." Shi Jiangtao



Li Keqiang will be China's best-educated premier

Li Keqiang , who is set to be premier in March after Wen Jiabao , is the best-educated premier since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Li, 57, holds postgraduate degrees in law and economics from the prestigious Peking University.

The premier-in-waiting also comes with the advantage of having managed the two most economically representative provinces - the country's largest agricultural hub Henan and the industrial base Liaoning .

He is the first senior leader in the central government to hold a PhD in economics and master's and bachelor's degrees in law, all earned at a university that was a hot spot of dissent. His liberal studies background contrasts strongly with the engineering credentials of those who have been running China.

Most of the leaders over the past couple of decades have been engineers turned bureaucrats, trained in an education system heavily influenced by the Soviet Union.

But Li, like many of his contemporaries, brings a markedly different mindset to problems facing the nation.

He was among the first group of undergraduates enrolled after late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the resumption of university entrance examinations in 1977 following the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

Li read law under Professor Gong Xiangrui, an expert on Western constitutional law who studied in Britain in the 1930s, and followed that with his economics PhD under Li Yining , the mainland's market reform guru.

Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics with the University of Sydney in Australia, noted that Li was the first lawyer to join the party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee - and would be the first lawyer to become premier.

"He typifies the new leaders inasmuch as he is not a technocrat, has a PhD from Peking University and had a long period of training in the provinces before elevation to executive vice-premier in 2008," Brown said.

Li is one of the few top leaders fluent in English, surprising observers during a visit to Hong Kong last year when he broke with protocol and addressed an audience at the University of Hong Kong in the language.

His wife, Cheng Hong , is a linguistics professor and an expert on American literature, who has translated several modern US works into Chinese.

Li rose through the Communist Youth League, a power base of party general secretary Hu Jintao , before taking on senior postings in big, tough provinces - challenges that marked him for a higher calling.

In 1999, he became the youngest governor - and the first with a PhD - when he was appointed to head the central province of Henan at the age of 43. He became the province's party secretary in 2003 and boss of Liaoning in 2004.

"He has gained very solid experience that a head of government is sorely in need of as he has proven his capability in China's two most representative economic regions," a State Council official said.

"Henan is the most populous region and largest province of farm produce in the country, while Liaoning has been China's industrial base." Cary Huang



Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang, an ally of former president Jiang Zemin , has developed a reputation for rigid efficiency during his rise over the past two decades from provincial party boss to vice-premier.

His heavy-handed tactics in dealing with social crises has sometimes led critics to accuse him of being ruthless. Zhang, the son of former People's Liberation Army General Zhang Zhiyi , was born in Liaoning in 1946. He studied at Kim Il-sung University for two years and earned a degree in economics in 1980.

Some time after his return, Zhang landed in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin , where his success in stemming the tide of illegal immigration from North Korea caught the eyes of Beijing leaders.

Fluent in Korean, Zhang won the trust of Jiang when in March 1990 he accompanied the then-president on an important solidarity mission to Pyongyang amid international isolation after the Tiananmen crackdown.

The president was impressed with Zhang's efforts in turning Yanbian into a "model prefecture" and he was promoted to party chief in Jilin in 1995 and Zhejiang in 1998 before assuming control of the manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong in 2002.

Zhang's installation as Chongqing party chief this year after his predecessor Bo Xilai's dramatic fall from power was seen as a signal that the hardliners were not quite out of favour despite seeing one of their champions disgraced.

His promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee would allow conservative 86-year-old Jiang to maintain his influence in the party's supreme policymaking body.

Zhang logged some of his biggest achievements in Guangdong - steering the most populous province through a period of explosive economic growth - but his iron-fisted style also landed him at the centre of numerous controversies. He was heavily criticised for his response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, which observers say was exacerbated by the province's slow response to early cases and the suppression of media reports about the disease.

Zhang also drew fire for violent crackdowns on social unrest in Guangdong. In 2005, police were believed to have killed 20 people in Dongzhou village in Shanwei when they fired into a crowd protesting against inadequate land compensation. Police also raided Taishi village to put down protests against village officials that same year. Staff Reporter



Yu Zhengsheng

Shanghai party chief Yu Zhengsheng , a veteran princeling, has a knack for using both the carrot and the stick.

The 67-year-old Yu, one of the Politburo's most senior members, has developed good political judgment after enduring many crises, including surviving the Cultural Revolution despite his blue-blood background.

"Yu is a fairly open-minded leader who is willing to compromise with local officialdom when moving into a new environment," Hong Kong-based commentator Ho Leong-leong said, citing differences in Yu's working style in Shandong , Hubei and Shanghai.

On the sidelines of the congress last week, Yu laid on the charm as he made surprisingly candid remarks about an otherwise taboo topic: the disclosure of personal assets.

"It's pretty easy for me to make public my personal assets once the central government decides to move ahead [on the issue]," he said. "Because I haven't actually got much."

His remarks single him out as is one of the most senior officials to openly express a willingness to disclose assets. It is a sharp contrast to the usual evasiveness or clichéd answers most apparatchiks give on this issue.

Yu was born into an aristocratic family in Shaoxing , Zhejiang , with many family members serving as officials in the late Qing dynasty or in the Kuomintang regime. His great-uncle Yu Da-wei served as Taiwan's defence minister in 1954, and his cousin Yu Yang-ho was son-in-law of former Taiwanese president Chiang Ching-kuo. Other family members had a Communist Party pedigree, including Yu's father, Yu Qiwei , also known as Huang Jing, who was once married to Mao Zedong's third wife, Jiang Qing , and introduced her to the party.

Yu Zhengsheng graduated from the missile engineering department of the Harbin Military Institute and spent 16 years as a cadre in the Ministry of Electronics Industry, with his last two years as a deputy department head under Jiang Zemin . He advanced despite the defection to the US in 1985 of his older brother, Yu Qiangsheng, a senior intelligence officer of the Ministry of State Security.

After serving in Yantai and Qingdao , and as a member of the Shandong party standing committee, Yu Zhengsheng became construction minister in 1998 and was promoted to Hubei party secretary in 2001. In 2002, he became director of the provincial party standing committee and was appointed to the Politburo. Staff Reporter



Liu Yunshan

Top censor Liu Yunshan , who was elevated yesterday to the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is known as a faithful enforcer of superiors' orders, who comes down hard on dissent.

Analysts said the Communist Party's propaganda department under Liu's control operates "like a fireman", rushing in to crack down on state media when it steps out of line.

Widely seen as a sidekick to propaganda tsar Li Changchun for nearly 10 years, Liu has spared no effort in touting President Hu Jintao's motto on party propaganda in the run-up to the 18th congress.

In September, Liu launched a campaign to promote Hu's propaganda policy in an apparent attempt to increase his political capital in the intense jockeying for a Standing Committee seat.

Before that, Liu was a loyal follower of Hu's efforts to cultivate China's soft power.

In the past few years, he has boosted the international presence of state-owned media organisations, with a budget of US$8 billion, opening China Central Television branches in the United States and Africa, launching an American edition of the China Daily and expanding the number of Confucius institutes worldwide.

Liu, 65, a native of Xinzhou in Shanxi province, began his career as a schoolteacher in Inner Mongolia's Tuzuo Banner region in 1968.

Like many propaganda officials who cut their teeth at state-owned news organisations, he worked at the Inner Mongolia branch of the Xinhua News Agency for seven years. He was later transferred to the region's Communist Youth League, where he rose to become deputy party secretary for Inner Mongolia, followed by party secretary for Chifeng in 1993.

In a sudden promotion to the central leadership that year, Liu was appointed vice-minister of the propaganda department. The rise prompted speculation that he had benefited from his family ties to party elder Bo Yibo - late father of disgraced former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai . Liu's father had worked for Bo senior.

Ever the government censors, the Liu-led team introduced a licensing regime for online service providers a few years ago and made it compulsory for microbloggers to register with their real names, showing their desire to control cyberspace as much as they control traditional media. Staff Reporter



Wang Qishan

Investors inside and outside China will probably be sorry to see a well-regarded and capable leader miss out on the key economic portfolio, instead taking on the task of handling internal party discipline within the Politburo Standing Committee.

However, there are hopes that the appointment of Wang Qishan , an economic reformer considered friendly to the West, might bring significant changes to the party's anti-graft efforts, combating a problem that many say has been getting worse in the past decade, making it one of the main sources of discontent against the party.

Analysts say Wang will bring to his new position decades of experience in economics and banking and a long, successful record as a troubleshooter.

Wang has much in common with his political mentor, Zhu Rongji . With similar personalities, working styles and political careers, former premier Zhu, a respected reformist, and Wang even share many nicknames, including fire brigade captain and crisis manager. Both have been described as straight-talking, no-nonsense, dynamic and decisive, rare traits in Chinese officialdom.

Wang was born in Qingdao , Shandong , where his father worked as an urban-planning engineer. He studied history at Northwest University in Xian , Shaanxi's provincial capital. He worked at a museum before going to Beijing in 1979 to study at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, where he researched rural economic reform. That led to his first job in finance at a rural trust and investment company.

While he is considered a reformist, he is also princeling - the well-connected son of a former leader. Wang's father went on to become party chief of Shanxi province and his father-in-law, Yao Yilin , was a vice-premier.

Wang Qishan has proven his technocratic mettle in key positions in regional governments and central government agencies. Wang sorted out a debt crisis in Guangdong province where he was vice-governor in the late 1990s. Later, he replaced the sacked Beijing mayor after a cover-up of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003.

Wang also boasts good ties in the West, having developed relations with some of the world's most important financial and banking leaders over the years, including former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson. Cary Huang



Zhang Gaoli

New Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli has always preferred to work away from the spotlight, but that may change as he will soon take over as executive vice-premier in charge of economic affairs in the world's second-biggest economy.

The Tianjin party chief, already a Politburo member, rarely speaks publicly about his personal views and lets his economic policies take centre stage instead. In the lead-up to the congress, however, Zhang has come across as eager to engage more with the public and media. Political observers said Zhang, 65, had always stood a good chance of promotion, not simply because of his policy achievements but due to his close ties with former leaders, including Jiang Zemin .

"Zhang [Gaoli] keeps a low profile all the time, and there is little negative news about him," said political commentator Li Datong , former editor at China Youth Daily.

A graduate of Xiamen University in 1970, Zhang joined the oil industry, the power base of former vice-president Zeng Qinghong . He started as a worker in a Maoming petroleum company in Guangdong province, and was a general manager before he started in 1984 to assume a political role.

From deputy party secretary of Maoming, he became deputy governor of Guangdong, provincial deputy party secretary and then Shenzhen party secretary, before moving to Shandong in 2001.

One of Zhang's significant achievements in Guangdong was hosting the first China Hi-Tech Fair in Shenzhen in 1998, state media said. During his tenure, he reportedly regularly visited Xi Zhongxun , father of Xi Jinping , the expected successor of President Hu Jintao . There was speculation that Zhang had also established close ties with Jiang.

Zhang spent about a year in Shandong, where his focus on economic growth drove the province's gross domestic product to 2 trillion yuan in 2006. A year later, he was moved to Tianjin and appointed to the Politburo. Explaining the move, He Guoqiang , then director of the party organisation department, said Zhang had extensive experience in developing coastal areas.

In Tianjin, he focused on the economy, building the financial and aviation businesses. During his tenure, the supercomputer Tianhe-1 was introduced to the municipality, while Binhai New Area, east of the city, beat Shanghai's Pudong in GDP growth. Staff Reporters


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Seven men who rule a billion

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