Guess who’s not invited to China’s key Communist Party congress

Five cadres from out-of-favour Communist Youth League have not received invitations to key meeting this autumn, raising eyebrows among observers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 July, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 9:11pm

As China’s once-every-five-years reshuffle at the top looms, some senior politicians have surprisingly not yet received their invitations to the gathering, attendance at which is a prerequisite for staying in the political elite.

The omissions, including several top cadres from the Communist Youth League, underscored the shift of power and the tightened party discipline under President Xi Jinping, analysts said. Xi is also the party’s general secretary.

About 2,300 delegates from different provinces and constituencies like state-owned enterprises and the military will attend the party’s 19th national congress. Elections of delegates ended in late June and most results have already been announced.

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For decades, high-level elections in China’s Communist Party have been extremely predictable, with the few surprises drawing considerable commentary from China watchers. The party itself has developed strict protocols to keep dark-horse contenders from getting the vote, ranging from controlling the nomination process to issuing clear guidance on who to vote for.

This election management makes it especially surprising that some incumbent members of the Central Committee were not invited to the congress, and has raised eyebrows among veteran China observers.

The five jilted cadres are all from the Communist Youth League and born before 1971, and were once seen as rising political stars. One of them, Qin Yizhi, is chief of the youth league and an alternate member of the Central Committee. The other four are also alternate members.

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Besides being at grave risk of losing their seats in the Central Committee, the uninvited will be also be excluded from casting a vote for new candidates for the committee.

Such exclusions were rare, said David Shambaugh, a professor of political science at George Washington University.

“This is highly unusual and can only mean that these individuals will not be included in the next Central Committee,” he said. “Once on the Central Committee, 99 per cent of the time cadres remain there until retirement age.”

Members of the Central Committee have primarily come from delegates to the party congress. The few exceptions are mostly from the military or are low-level cadres in trusted roles in key offices.

Though it was possible that the officials in question lost in the strictly-regulated elections, the obvious pattern of a sidelined league faction suggested they were victims of Xi’s campaign against the faction, Shambaugh added.

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“As we know, Xi Jinping has really gone after the Communist Youth League over the past year, trying to decimate the patronage networks there,” he said. “This would be consistent with the past year’s actions.”

The youth league, the power base of former president Hu Jintao, has been overhauled since the fall of Hu’s former chief of staff, Ling Jihua.

Last year, the league, once the cradle for future political high-fliers, was slammed by party inspectors for its self-serving attitude, with some of its cadres accused of seeing themselves as “political aristocrats”.

Chen Daoyin, a political scientist with the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the new delegates list also bore the marks of Xi’s unprecedented anti-corruption campaign, which had included tightening the election process for party congress delegates. The party has said political loyalty was the top criteria for selecting delegates.

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“It’s the first party congress meeting after Xi’s anointment as the core leader. If one can’t even become one of the delegates, it basically means Xi is not impressed,” Chen said.

“Heavy regulation focused on political loyalty from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has been seen this year. This could greatly shape the election.”

Another prominent name missing from the list of delegates is Zhang Zhijun, Beijing’s top man for Taiwan affairs, an area that has seen two deputy directors at its top office involved in corruption cases.

While most observers see this year’s election as breaking from party conventions, Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, said the changes had made the party more meritocratic.

“Over the last few years, we have seen a kind of cultural revolution in the party - an attempt to make it tougher, more efficient and much more politically adept. So everything these days is about performance and delivery - not about waiting till your turn comes,” Brown said.

“This is a sign that, above all in contemporary China, politics is in command. And if a cadre has a skill set that other party leaders find useful in their overall mission - to make one-party rule sustainable - then that will get him into the inner circle, no matter what.”