The 19th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress will convene on October 18. Its jewel on the crown will be its newly “elected” Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). There have been more than enough predictions on PSC memberships, so this piece will only discuss the most ideal PSC membership for Xi Jinping, the current head of the CCP.
The ability to dictate the composition of the PSC is the most important measure of Xi Jinping’s power. A more concentrated power further enhances Xi’s control. A downsizing from the current seven-member PSC to five-members will therefore be a resounding win for Xi.
Besides Xi, the other four ideal PSC members for Xi will be: Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, and Chen Miner.
There will be plenty of people crying foul: wouldn’t the inclusion of Wang Qishan in the new PSC be more ideal for Xi? Well, they fail to see the significance to Xi of the safely and gloriously retiring Wang, the second most powerful person in the CCP.
The safe retirement of the second most powerful person in the CCP is a rare event, with Wen Jiabao being the only exception, and with Gao Gang, Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, and Yang Shankun being persecuted or sacked, and with Qiao Shi and Li Ruihuan being unceremoniously marginalized. Another exception was Zeng Qinghong at his time of retirement, but he is on a hot seat now. The reasons for this phenomenon are many and beyond the scope of this article, but a safe and glorious retirement for Wang will speak of Xi’s power to protect Wang, particularly when Wang has enraged the entire CCP establishment by purging over two million corrupt CCP officials throughout China.
Will the absence of Wang from the PSC weaken Xi’s anti-corruption campaign? That depends on what Xi’s needs may be for the next five years. Wang takes the iron-fist approach to purging corrupt officials. The exit of Wang may suggest Xi’s shift to a more systemic approach to suppress corruption, which was what Xi and Wang spoke of five years ago, when they first took the central power.
The obvious beneficiary of Wang’s exit is Chen Miner, whose promotion to the PSC would have been unimaginable five years ago, when he was merely the deputy party secretary of Guizhou province, quite a few ranks below PSC. Chen, however, arguably understands Xi’s governing philosophy and approach the best among all CCP cadres, for he was responsible for much of Xi’s writings and speeches when Xi made his way up from Zhejiang province. Chen is currently a CCP central committee member, and promoting Chen to the PSC will mean skipping the Politburo Committee membership in between, a major victory for Xi.
Making PSC will be a sweet revenge for Wang Yang, who was widely expected to be in the PSC five years ago, but was ambushed by the Jiang Zemin faction’s strong opposition. Li Keqiang, the current premier, and Li Zhanshu, Xi’s chief of staff, are widely expected to round out the rest of the PSC.
Unlike what many observers have commented, this ideal PSC for Xi is, surprisingly, not Xi’s-army, but is rather inclusive. The only underling of Xi in this PSC is Chen Miner; Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu and Wang Yang are all Xi’s former colleagues or peers. No other strongman in the CCP, from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin, has been as inclusive as Xi. This will, in fact, testify to Xi’s leadership.
The only faction that will lose out in this ideal PSC for Xi will be Jiang Zemin’s faction, which loathes Wang Qishan to death. This actually explains Wang’s recent high profile appearances despite the Jiang faction’s attack against Wang. If Xi were to arrange for Wang’s safe and glorious retirement, Wang’s high profile appearance leading up to the 19th CCP Congress would scare Jiang’s faction enough that it might make concessions to give Xi his ideal PSC in exchange for Wang’s exclusion from the new PSC.
Shizhong Chen, Ph.D., is a founder and the president of the Conscience Foundation, and a research fellow of ChinaScope.