China brings in ‘new mainstream’ to top advisory body

More than half of the delegates to the CPPCC are attending for the first time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2018, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2018, 11:57pm

China’s annual gathering of political and economic elites began in Beijing on Saturday and more than half of the faces were new amid a five-yearly reshuffle.

Gone were the descendants of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the outspoken adviser who criticised a former premier, and the entertainers with connections to Communist Party factions.

More than half of the 2,158 delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are attending the meeting at the Great Hall of the People for the first time.

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They will be joined by some 3,000 national lawmakers in the coming weeks to discuss controversial and high-stakes state affairs, including the proposed constitutional change to remove the presidential term limit that will enable President Xi Jinping to stay on beyond 2023.

Beijing-based political analyst Zhang Lifan said some of the first-timers did not have a complicated background. “They are not attached to any political faction and will faithfully follow the main themes set by the party,” he said. “And they will be the new mainstream.”

Among those missing from the corridors of the Great Hall this year was hawkish People’s Liberation Army Lieutenant General Wang Hongguang, whose threat to take Taiwan by force made headlines last year.

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Other familiar faces not attending this year were Huang Wenzai, chairman of Guangzhou-based property developer Star River, who once publicly challenged then-premier Wen Jiabao over the issue of integrity in the real estate industry, and former state television host Cui Yongyuan, a fervent opponent of genetically modified food.

Some of the princelings, especially the second generation of communist revolutionary leaders, were also missing. Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s son and daughter, Deng Pufang and Deng Nan, along with Li Xiaolin, the daughter of late president Li Xiannian, have retired from the CPPCC. Zhu Heping, grandson of the People’s Liberation Army founder Marshal Zhu De, and Wan Jifei, son of the late chairman of the National People’s Congress Wan Li, have also retired.

Mao’s only surviving grandson, PLA Major General Mao Xinyu, was also off the list, as were popular military singer Song Zuying, Nobel literature prize laureate Mo Yan and comedian Zhao Benshan.

Changes in the CPPCC line-up have coincided with a changing of the guard in the party and the government, with some newly retired ministers joining the body to offer their policy advice. But Beijing has also said it wants to bring in younger advisers from different professions and sectors.

Among the new CPPCC members from the 200-strong Hong Kong delegation are Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, who headed the World Health Organisation for years before she retired in June, Charles Li Xiaojia, chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties.

In his final report on Saturday, outgoing CPPCC chief Yu Zhengsheng offered few surprises on sensitive topics such as Beijing’s ties with Taiwan. “We will deepen solidarity and friendship with our compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese,” Yu said, while calling on ethnic Chinese, including those overseas, to help realise the “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation.

Wang Yang, the outgoing vice-premier who has been promoted to the party’s innermost Politburo Standing Committee, is expected to succeed Yu at the end of the annual meeting.

Additional reporting by Jane Cai