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China's Communist Party

Be flexible on retirement age for top echelons of government

Retaining top talent like anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan is crucial if China is to move forward with reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 12:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 12:33am

The nominal age limit for members of the Politburo Standing Committee is there for a good reason – to prevent barriers to the entry of fresh talent to China’s top political body. Because it is unofficial it can also be broken for good reasons, such as retaining exceptional talent that is not easily replaced. A precedent of kinds is People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川), 69 in less than three months. His credibility in central banking circles was too valuable for him to be pensioned off at the usual age of 65.

The next example may arise on the Standing Committee itself. Speaking after the sixth plenum, ahead of a leadership reshuffle at next year’s party congress, an official did not rule it out. The member in question is Wang Qishan, 69 next year and one of five who will be past the retiring age of 68. Deng Maosheng, of the Central Committee’s Policy Research Office, said there was room for flexibility on the committee according to specific circumstances.

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What is specific, if not special about Wang, is not just that he is an ally of President Xi Jinping (習近平) who is responsible for the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. As a former deputy governor of the PBOC and governor of China Construction Bank, and former director of the office for economic restructuring under the State Council, Wang also brings experience to economic debate.

Amid rule by consensus that has prevailed since after the Cultural Revolution and the need to retire many elders, age has been the ultimate criteria for promotion and retirement at the highest level. As a result, compared with many Western democracies, China’s leaders retire relatively young.

The age rule, however, has outlived its historical purpose and no longer needs to be applied rigidly to serve the country’s interests. China needs to come up with a more comprehensive approach to fight corruption and rebalance its economy. The party needs to fast-track talents and assess their ability to understand how free markets work. Rather than the emphasis on age, it needs an objective system with checks and balances for applying wider criteria.