Economic development matters, human rights don’t – a guide to being promoted to the top of China’s Party

With China’s latest round of promotions, we have a chance to get an updated perspective on what is valued by the CPC, instead of relying on the claims from state media that the Party is looking to improve reforms and protect human rights.

Within the top 7 it is clear that as long as you are a Han male, in your late 50′s or early 60′s, (and have suspiciously dark black hair), there is no single path to power. Xi Jinping was well connected through his family and developed ties in the military before moving unobtrusively through the Party ranks, Li Keqiang found ties to Hu Jintao in the Communist Youth League (CYL), Zhang Dejiang established himself by outlining how to work with North Korea, Yu Zhengsheng hitched his career to Deng Xiaoping’s family, Liu Yunshan spent 30 years honing his prowess at propaganda, Wang Qishan built a reputation as a clever economic reformer and honest leader, and Zhang Gaoli quietly worked his way up the Party ladder by focusing on economic development in high-tech industries.

Most of them have been heralded for their success in economic development, but within a country that has seen some of the most rapid economic development in the world, it would seem that these are not the only 7 men with this on their resumes. It seems that for many of them being relatives of former high ranking officials or connections to recent leaders have been essential to their rise.

Of the seven, 5 of them were sent down to the countryside as “educated youth,” which was the start of their careers. Yu Zhengsheng seems to have avoided this because he was working on ballistic missile controls (and later radios), and Zhang Gaoli was involved with the CYL and petroleum. For many of them this was a time of “eating bitterness,” yet not a single one of them has spoken out about the period, in fact some have gone as far as saying that it was this point in their life that taught them to love the Party.

Which brings us to one of the most essential characteristics of rising to the top – an unquestioning loyalty to the Party. Their troubling records when it comes to human rights seem to suggest that there is no political fall out for abuses committed under their watch.

Xi Jinping cracked down on labor rights activists and house church members (Li Jianfeng received a sentence heftier than Liu Xiabo’s). Li Keqiang ignored the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in Henan province while he was the head, and had AIDS researchers and whistle blowers arrested. Zhang Dejiang, perhaps the individual with the worst record, covered up SARS as it was becoming an epidemic, had journalists arrested and publications closed, and approved a massive land grab that led to brutal force being used against peasants (over 20 were killed), his early fame came for limiting the number of North Korean immigrants into China. Liu Yunshan has been an ardent advocate of stricter controls over the media and the Internet. Yu Zhengsheng was a vocal opponent of democratic reforms, insisting that independent candidates be blocked from running at the local level. Zhang Gaoli was the head of Shandong province during the initial trial of Chen Guangcheng (Eric from Sinostand said that his promotion would be a sign that China is headed in a more conservative direction). It seems there is no injustice that would impede a Party member’s rise, as long as stability is maintained.

Wang Qishan seems to be the one bright spot among the standing committee as in the past he has promoted more transparent leadership that takes responsibility for its mistakes (although he has never asked the Party to take responsibility). His position within the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection seems to hold some promise for reform in an otherwise depressing line up.

Meanwhile pro-reform minded candidates Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, both failed to reach the highest level of government. While it is very difficult to know on what basis the other 7 were selected above the others, they all seem to lack any measure of dissent. Li Yuanchao was known for cracking down on polluters, handling mass incidents in a softer way, and worked to limit corruption in Jiangsu province. Li also came out strongly after Bo Xilai’s downfall, proclaiming that the era for ignoring human rights in the name of striking black (cracking down on illegal activity and organized crime) was over. Wang Yang has also been seen as taking a softer approach to handling unrest, and has been cultivating a reputation as a reformer (by Chinese standards). This seems to have been one factor precluding them from the promotion. Yet, Yu Zhengsheng’s co-operation in shielding Deng Xiaoping’s son from investigation for corruption did not hinder his career as much as his brother’s defection.

So despite repeated claims from People’s Daily that reform continues and that people’s rights are being protected, there is a strong signal from the top that economic growth is more important than political reforms, that blood lines and building guanxi are more important than one’s interest in serving the people, and that protecting human rights matters far less than protecting the Party’s interests. Until the Party excludes individuals with such spotty pasts from promotion, China’s local leaders will continue to emulate the human rights abuses and cover ups that are undermining its authority.

The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent round-up of the new leaders that is worth reading and Yu Jie’s editorial – Empty Suit is a biting look at Xi Jinping.

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About T

I have been working in China for nearly five years now. I have traveled to more than 30 cities and towns, and have lived in 3 provinces. I am interested in issues concerning development in China and the rest of the world. I hope to provide a balanced look at some of the issues facing China as it continues its rise to power.
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3 Responses to Economic development matters, human rights don’t – a guide to being promoted to the top of China’s Party

  1. This post is most enlightening to me albeit sad in the fact that China’s people pretty much face the same type of government they received under Hu. The only party in China that matters to the CPC is their Party. I sure hope that more party members like Wang Qishan, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang are given better opportunities to make China a better country for its people and for its political party. How depressing to know that the robots who rule the Middle Kingdom have no interest in making things better for anyone else but themselves. What a selfish lot the CPC is.

  2. kingtubby1 says:

    I can’t relocate the link, but to loosely quote Peng Liyuan on why she chose to marry Xi: “He was simply a very nice guy, even if he’s not too smart.” And that ‘s just what the doctor ordered for this new configuration of the Standing Committee. After ten years of indiscipherable Hu- speak, Xi’s much more human approach to oratory will be most welcome. All he has to do is hold the various interest groups together, and he will be realising his duty statement and performing the Party mission.

    It is just as well that this new leadership is not going to attempt any economic (don’t even consider political) reforms, as they are now engineering the demise of the Party in the medium term. What with all the domestic problems confronting China in 2012, it is now more than likely that the Party will be dislodged thru violent means, and that’s a good thing as a full range of voices will enter the public domain.. extreme nationalists, ROL advocates, political reformers, millennial christians, disgruntled farmers, environmentalists, mafia elements, etc.

    A real Babylon of contending interests and aspirations, mixed in with applications of brute force.

    However, don’t equate violent means with the classic/romantic notion of a wholesale and simultaneous revolution: the populace rising up and overthrowing the monied-power classes. Rather, the disintegration of Party power will take many forms, depending on disparate conditions in villages, counties, cities and provinces. There won’t be any unifying visionary themes for a new future, just localized chaos (even pay back for perceived past injustices) across the social formation. Some local Party constituencies may conceivably even retain the levers of political power as they are viewed in a positive light by the local populace.

    One thing is certain. Diktats from Beijing will lose all power and authority as highly local communities attempt to determine their own future..

    Finally, it is simply not possible to envisage China’s long term political make-up/form of government, as chaotic local conditions will prevail for quite some time, and liberal democracy is not the end point of history as argued by some nitwits.

    In the reading department, I highly recommend the latest by John Garnaut, unquestionably the best and most connected Western reporter writing on China today.

    On the dead hand and traitorous role played by Jiang Zemin.

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/china-politics/high-stakes-in-chinas-game-of-thrones-20121116-29hpc.html

    Maybe the Epoch Times was onto something, even if they over-iced the cake.

    A windy post, I realise. Thnx.

  3. Yaxue Cao says:

    Zhang Gaoli’s political assets come from his excessive fawning on Xi Jinping’s father and Jiang Zemin. According to Wen Yunchao, a very-sourced journalist, “when Zhang was the party secretary of Shenzhen, he took great care of Xi’s father who convalescence there. When he was the party secretary of Shandong and Jiang Zemin was to climb Mount Tai, Zhang had men from the Armed Police run up and down the mountain every day for two months carrying a sedan chair with about 250 pounds of rocks in it in preparation for Jiang’s visit. Someone in the know told me long time ago that, if Xi gets one quota to bring his men into the PSC, that man will be Zhang Gaoli.”

    Yesterday as I watched Xi’s speech, I was seriously repulsed by the look of Zhang Gaoli. He looked ghostly. Liu Yunshan looks like a pig. (Sorry readers, but they really do make me feel terrible.)

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