Li Xiaopeng’s Promotion and the Dynamics of CCP Officialdom
Li Xiaopeng’s Promotion and the Dynamics of CCP Officialdom
Narrator: The person in these photos is Li Xiaopeng, the eldest son of former Chinese Communist Party leader Li Peng. He is one of the most socially visible “princelings", who are the offspring of the Chinese Communist Party’s leaders. Because Li Peng had long been working in the power industry, his son Li Xiaopeng and daughter Li Xiaolin both chose to study electric power engineering in university. After graduation, both started working in China’s power industry.
Narrator: In 1991, Li Xiaopeng joined Huaneng International Power Development Corporation, launching his career in both politics and business. In 1999, Li Xiaopeng took over as the president of Huaneng Group, as well as the chairman of the boards of Huaneng International Power Development Corporation and Huaneng Power International. One year later, in 2000, Huaneng Power International successfully acquired the New York-listed Shandong Huaneng, becoming Asia’s largest independent power company. Li Xiaopeng was also dubbed the “Asian King of Electricity". In 2002, after China’s electric power system went through a reform, Li Xiaopeng became the president of the newly formed large state-owned China Huaneng Group. Under Li Xiaopeng, China Huaneng Group became the biggest among the five largest state-owned electric utility enterprises in China. When he just turned 40, Li Xiaopeng became one of the entrepreneur-officials at the vice-ministerial level. Both Li Xiaopeng and the then-governor of Liaoning Province, Bo Xilai, were high-profile future political stars among all the princelings. However, Li Xiaopeng was 10 years younger than Bo. When Bo Xilai was Li Xiaopeng’s age, he was merely the vice mayor and acting mayor of Dalian City.
Narrator: In 2008, Li Xiaopeng suddenly abandoned his business career to enter politics. He became the vice governor of Shanxi Province, ranking second among the seven vice governors. However, the early stages of Li Xiaopeng’s career in officialdom were clearly not as smooth as his business career. He remained a vice governor for the next four years, without being promoted to the position of governor. In November 2012, at the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, he received the least votes among all the members and alternate members of the Central Committee. It is widely believed that the notoriety of his father Li Peng due to his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and the criticism regarding his family’s monopoly of China’s power industry have resulted in Li Xiaopeng receiving a short shrift in politics. Just as some overseas media were speculating on Li Xiaopeng’s future political career, on December 19, 2012, the Chinese Communist Party suddenly appointed Li Xiaopeng as acting governor of Shanxi Province. During the local government officials’ personnel changes after the 18th National Congress, Li Xiaopeng wasn’t seen as being liked by anyone. However, he suddenly scored a big upset and was promoted. This has drawn people’s attention both within and outside China. People began wondering who was in charge of the ups and downs of the Chinese Communist Party’s officialdom.
Simone Gao: After the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, the Party’s new general secretary Xi Jinping has shown an aggressive style, since taking office a month ago. Domestically, he removed a number of corrupt officials and made a series of provisions in succession to constrain the Party’s senior cadres and the senior military leaders. Internationally, he has exhibited aggressive behaviors when disputing with China’s neighbors on territorial sovereignty issues. These seem to show that Xi Jinping has quickly been taking charge of the overall situation. However, just as some people were rejoicing in the so-called “Xi-Li New Politics”, Li Xiaopeng’s promotion and some other issues cast a shadow over the so-called “New Politics”. Then, what is the situation of the Chinese Communist Party’s officialdom? In reality, what impact will this have? In this episode of Zooming In, we will explore these issues.
Narrator: During the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress held in November 2012, the former general secretary Hu Jintao unexpectedly withdrew from the post of chairman of the Central Military Commission. He became the highest-ranking CCP official to have a “naked retreat” during the transfer of power among the top leaders. The meaning of Hu’s “naked retreat" was a hotly debated topic in the media for a while. The direction of overseas Chinese media was reflected in Hong Kong Economic Times’ article titled Hu Jintao’s “Naked Retreat" to End the Elders’ Intervention in Politics and by Apple Daily’s commentary titled A Complete Retreat and the First of its Kind, Prevention of Political Scourges of the Elders – Hu Jintao “Slapped" Jiang Zemin. The overseas Chinese media generally believed that Hu’s “naked retreat” was certainly conducive to eliminating the CCP’s gerontocracy tradition. Some media even used “sacrificing his life to bomb a bunker" to imply that Hu’s naked retreat was to “die together” with Jiang Zemin, and that it has blocked the way for the outgoing Party leaders to continue their manipulation with the CCP’s personnel arrangement and major policies.
Narrator: However, as time goes on, the so-called view point of “the naked retreat preventing the elders’ political intervention" is being increasingly called into question. On November 23, Radio Free Asia published a commentary written by Hu Shaojiang. It was titled Hu Jintao’s Naked Retreat Did Not Terminate the Tradition of Elders’ Interference in Politics. On December 11, Deutsche Welle published Gao Yu’s commentary titled Hu Jintao’s Naked Retreat Still Remains a Mystery, which clearly pointed out that although Hu Jintao’s “naked retreat” had won him the reputation of “having a sharp sense of integrity”, it failed to prevent the Party elders from interfering in political affairs. Commentator Heng He has also pointed out in his article that Hu’s naked retreat has no political legacy in reality.
Narrator: Li Xiaopeng’s sudden promotion has once again revealed the issue of Party elders interfering in politics. Radio France Internationale reported on December 19 that Li Xiaopeng’s promotion was “propelled by his father’s background”. This article also cited some rumors in Beijing that the former head of the Organization Department of the Central Committee, Li Yuanchao, was removed from the Standing Committee shortlist by Li Peng. The reason for this is that Li Xiaopeng’s promotion was ignored by Li Yuanchao, which caused Li Peng to be dissatisfied with him. The oust of Li Yuanchao and Li Xiaopeng’s promotion seem to show the world that whether it was before or after the CCP’s 18th National Congress, on the issue of personnel arrangements, the Party elders have an influence which cannot be ignored.
Simone Gao: Does Li Xiaopeng’s promotion prove the existence of the Party elder’s interference? Let’s hear NTD TV senior strategist Wen Zhao’s opinion.
Simone Gao: In the episode of Zooming In, right after CCP’s 18th Congress, you rejected the idea that Hu Jintao’s “naked withdrawal” would put a stop to China’s tradition of retired senior leaders interfering with politics. Now that Li Xiaopeng has been promoted, do you think his promotion is evidence of senior leaders’ influence on current political affairs?
Wenzhao: We should approach this topic from a few angles. Li Xiaopeng was stuck in the position of Vice Shanxi Governor for four long years without any promotion, which means that he was not looked upon favorably by the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao government. Secondly, judging from the poor vote he received from Central Committee Members and backup Central Committee Members, he did not receive wide support from these two circles. Secondly, he fared relatively smoothly thanks to his father, Li Peng’s intervention; his position as Shanxi’s provincial governor was also due to his family’s support — which was a known fact. That is to say, as far as his resume goes, he has had little support except from his father. Thirdly, as the main culprit of the Tiananmen Massacre, Li Peng needs to have his offspring present in court to protect his family. If Li Xiaopeng is slighted by fellow politicians, Li Peng will become nervous and stake everything to guarantee his son’s ascension to power. For a retired Party leader to intervene in politics constitutes “senior’s intervention in Party politics.” It is worth noticing that when Li Xiaopeng was isolated, Li Peng’s view still overpowered that of the majority of the Party officials. This situation is evidence of China’s political ecology where retired seniors and their prestigious families can still maneuver enormous powers and resources
Simone Gao: Xi Jinping has been cultivating a deliberate powerful profile since his ascent into power, which is a marked difference from Hu Jintao who was once compared to an obedient new bride. Do you think Ji Xinping’s rule will also be overshadowed by retired leaders’ maneuverings?
WenZhao: We cannot simply presume that Xi Jinping would be under as much influence from the retirees as was his predecessor — after all, the CCP political regime assigns most power to the incumbent who has the rightful capacity to assemble his own team and control the big picture. But, we have been addressing political arrangements within the context of intra-CCP politics. Once someone wants to step outside this confine and lead the CCP towards democracy and more openness one will for sure encounter obstacles from the system. The senior leaders’ intervention is just one instance. Seniors tend to intervene during what’s thought to be critical moments, not during the usual times. Due to the rigidity of its mentality, the CCP’s political culture tends to puts conventional Party lines and schools of thoughts on a pedestal, which then becomes the springboard for the senior retirees’ intervention. Backed by old ideological traditions, senior leaders can assume the position of political elders and talk down the younger generation of leaders who are at a disadvantage by lacking relevant political authority. Of course the seniors are often in alliance with the princelings — together they form a mature political mode of operation in China. Although a new leader might seem powerful, it won’t be an easy game for him to turn this table.
Narrator: On December 4, the CCP’s mouthpiece Xinhua Net reported that the new CCP Central Committee Political Bureau examined and adopted “eight provisions to improve work style”. In these eight provisions, besides imposing detailed restrictions on the CCP senior cadres’ travels, inspections, meetings and other activities, there was a special mention of one thing: “Besides the unitary arrangements made by the central government, individuals are prohibited from publishing their writings or speeches, sending congratulatory letters or messages, or writing inscriptions. This provision has been interpreted by some overseas media as aiming at the former party leader Jiang Zemin, since Jiang had been very enthusiastic about writing various inscriptions. After leaving office, Jiang has been tirelessly using this method to show he still exists and to demonstrate his influence. The eight new provisions proposed by Xi Jinping demand the CCP Politburo members take the lead in complying. Some overseas Chinese media had optimistically interpreted these provisions as preventing the elders’ interference in political affairs in an institutionalized manner. Some even thought that they meant to go so far as “ban” Jiang Zemin.
Narrator: However, merely two weeks after the “eight new provisions” were released, the anticipation of the so-called “banning Jiang Zemin” was confounded. On December 22, a launch ceremony of a bamboo-themed poetry collection was held at the Great Hall of the People. Jiang Zemin wrote a preface for the book, and one of Jiang’s poems were also included in this collection. Not only was this piece of news reported by the CCP’s official mouthpiece Xinhua Net and other media outlets, Politburo members Liu Yandong and the new head of the Central Propaganda Department, Liu Qibao also attended and spoke at the launch event and donated copies of the book to some government departments.
Narrator: Two days later, on December 24, a documentary album titled Huang Ju, which is about the life of its namesake former Politburo Standing Committee member Huang Ju who died due to illness in 2006, was published and released. Jiang Zemin had inscribed the album’s title, and Central Committee Politburo member and Shanghai municipal Party secretary Han Zheng attended the publishing forum. Jiang Zemin employed the methods of inscribing the album’s title, writing a preface for the album and involving senior officials to sing its praises, in order to show that his influence remains the same as when he was in power. Another bizarre appointment also attracted people’s attention. On December 20, Shanghai vice mayor Yang Xiong was promoted to Shanghai’s municipal Party committee’s deputy secretary. According to conventions within the Communist Party system, this implies that Yang Xiong will probably become a future mayor of Shanghai. The strangeness of his appointment is that not only has Yang Xiong failed to be elected as a Shanghai Municipal Committee member, but he also failed to be elected as a Central Committee alternate member at the CCP’s 18th National Congress. However now he’s even been promoted in Shanghai, a major municipality directly controlled by the central government. Taking into account that Yang Xiong has a close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the latter’s possible role in Yang’s appointment has aroused suspicion. When Jiang Zemin’s eldest son, Jiang Mianheng, was the chairman of Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd, Yang Xiong served as that company’s president.
Regarding the Party’s dynamics reflected by Jiang Zemin’s recent activities, let’s hear Jason’s analysis.
Simone Gao: Xi Jinping has instructed the Central Committee Politburo members to take the lead in complying with the “new eight provisions” that he proposed. However, although Jiang Zemin is not a current Politburo member, as a retired former Party leader, he has taken the lead in violating these provisions. He wrote inscriptions and prefaces for books, and some senior officials even sang his praises. It seems that while Xi Jinping is making his provisions, Jiang Zemin is doing whatever he likes; and nobody is showing respect for each other. In your opinion, which kind of structure does this reflect, regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s top officialdom?
Jason: This is a very delicate state of the Chinese Communist Party’s officialdom. The Communist Party is not elected, so its power doesn’t come from the people. Its power comes from the subtle power struggles and their so-called influence. We have always thought from the outset that, relatively speaking, the Party core’s power is waning with each generation of the top leadership. Although Xi Jinping wanted to exhibit a strong stance by fighting corruption, after taking office, and even setting out the eight recommendations, Jiang Zemin had to demonstrate that they cannot constrain him. Jiang must do this. If he still wants the Party subordinates to execute some policies established by him in the past, such as the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and similar policies, he must exhibit at all times his unique authority. After Xi Jinping put forward the “eight new provisions", the best way for Jiang to show his authority is to violate the “eight provisions". He wrote prefaces and inscriptions, and even composed and published a poem. Nearly all of these violated all the recommendations made by Xi Jinping. However, under such circumstances, I think that Xi Jinping cannot do anything about him. He’s done it. That’s it. In doing this Jiang Zemin has demonstrated that he is an independent entity entirely beyond Xi Jinping’s control. This has affected Xi Jinping’s political influence. At the same time, it also makes him seem to exhibit some political influence. This is what Jiang Zemin must do. The nature of the “bloody gang” (i.e. the CCP fraction that persecuted and killed numerous Chinese citizens) throughout history determines that he must do this. This is no surprise.
Simone Gao: If this is the case, in your opinion, does Jiang Zemin hold real power or is he just making a show? And, if Xi Jinping has no way to prevent him from performing this show, in fact does Jiang Zemin have any authority?
Jason: Jiang Zemin’s de facto power should be minimal. From the personnel arrangements in the provinces and within the Central Military Commission, we can see that he has no de facto power. At the CCP’s top level, he should have no real power, either. However, he still hopes to show that he has influence through these political stunts. So currently no one dares propose the vindication of Falun Gong and similar things, or directly challenge Jiang’s policies. He just wants to use the “empty fort strategy” to buy time. Perhaps in the process, his son will die. His son has cancer. Jiang may also die. After his generation, everything may become bygone. His main purpose is to buy time.
Simone Gao: After the new CCP Standing Committee Politburo members were unveiled at the 18th National Congress, the personnel changes soon started to take place in the Central Organization Department, the Central Propaganda Department and the Central Politics and Law Committee, which are all Party organs directly controlled by the central government. In December 2012, the personnel changes expanded to the people in charge at the provincial level. Some new phenomena emerged during these provincial official personnel changes, and they have attracted people’s attention. Let us first listen to Sherry’s comprehensive presentation.
Sherry Chang: Thank you, Simone. After the CCP’s 18th National Congress, the redeployment of major cadres at the provincial level and central government-controlled municipal level is being intensively carried out. Some notable cases include the former Guangdong Party secretary Wang Yang being transferred to Beijing, and he is expected to become a State Council vice-premier; the former Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Party secretary Hu Chunhua was transferred to Guangdong to succeed Wang Yang; the former Shanxi provincial governor Wang Jun was transferred to Inner Mongolia to succeed Hu Chunhua; and Li Xiaopeng was promoted to become the acting governor of Shanxi Province.
Sherry Chang: In addition, the Fujian Provincial People’s Congress Standing Committee director Sun Chunlan replaced Zhang Gaoli as the secretary of the Tianjin Municipal Party Committee. The former Director of the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Peng Qinghua, was newly appointed the Guangxi provincial Party committee secretary. His predecessor, the former Guangxi Provincial Party committee secretary Guo Shengkun will receive another appointment. Guo is likely to take over Meng Jianzhu’s old post as the Minister of Public Security.
Sherry Chang: In this series of position shuffling, a controversial and much-discussed phenomenon is that officials with a background connected to the Communist Youth League have received many high-ranking posts within the central government and local governments. For instance, the former CCP Central Committee Political Bureau Deputy Secretary-General You Quan was appointed secretary of the Fujian Provincial Party Committee; Bayin Chaolu was appointed the acting governor of Jilin Province; and Hu Chunhua, Sun Zhengcai, Wang Huning, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang are all among the members of the Politburo. Regarding these appointments, the overseas Chinese website Duowei News commented that “Jiang has won for the moment; Hu will win in the future”. The website believes that after this round of reshuffling, “the new generation of Youth League faction took high-ranking posts", and that after five years, five incumbent members of the Standing Committee Politburo would retire, and that would be the time for the so-called Youth League faction to assume full power. However, whether these Youth League faction younger officials would bring about reforms once they are in power, some people have had doubts. Back in early November 2012, the New York Times article China’s Reformists Pin Their Hope on Wang Yang cited a person familiar with the situation as saying, “Wang Yang’s reformist identity has been exaggerated. He has repeatedly evaded people’s expectations for bolder reforms." Xiao Ming.
Simone Gao:Thank you Sherry. What does the post 18th Party Congress government personnel shuffle mean? Let’s hear from Wen Zhao.
Simone Gao: Some overseas Chinese media have observed that the post-18th Party Congress political arrangement marks the triumph of the Youth League faction where Jiang Zemin’s clan, although having won many seats in the standing committee, has actually lost out. Would you agree with this point of view?
Wen Zhao: I cannot totally agree to the saying that, “Jiang has won the here and now but Hu controls the future direction.” I even doubt the so-called “Youth League faction” led by Hu Jintao. A political faction is consolidated by a tie which is either based in common ideological opinions or materialistic interests. We can find neither in the “Youth League” faction. We cannot simply assume that only because these people once worked for the Youth League that they can be grouped into one faction. With caution, the concept of “faction” can be applied to China’s top political echelons. Someone can be said to be from “Jiang’s clan” because he was a Jiang protégé and he has to be consistent with Jiang’s opinion when it comes to key issues. But, as to officials at the provincial or under-provincial level, we cannot make a strong case for “factions” because officials at these levels try to please all sides, endeavoring to cultivate good relationships with all central government entities– few of them would simply rely on one particular political force. It is also over simplistic to assume that the few standing committee members connected to Jiang are having a “false” glory. How to divide their tasks is up for grabs and hence their appearance opportunities are not as frequent. Wang Qishan is high profile because he doubles as the state department vice premier; he was needed when negotiating with the Americans. The CCP’s power structure resembles a pyramid where the top decisions are made at the standing committee level. Whoever owns a seat on the standing committee owns one vote. Those who are thought to be in “real” glory are outsiders to this community. Therefore as far as I am concerned, whoever holds a consistent view on the CCP cannot simply assume that major changes are happening to the system simply because one particular person is more active in the media
Simone Gao:Finally let’s hear Jason’s take on this.
Simone Gao: Now, some people think that the so-called “new generation of Youth League faction” collectively took high-ranking posts. In other words, at the CCP’s 19th National Congress, five aged Standing Committee members will retire. Afterwards, the Youth League faction’s new generation will take full control of the power, and China’s reforms will take place. Do you think that such expectations are likely or not?
Jason: Very unlikely. My feeling is that “CCP’s reform is dead". This is a consensus. This consensus is not the conclusion of one or two people. In fact, all senior Communist Party officials have this understanding. China’s rich are actually powerful, and only the Chinese people close to the power can become rich. We also know that a quarter of the wealthy Chinese have emigrated overseas. Another 50% are ready to emigrate overseas. They know very well that “China’s reform is dead", and there is virtually no possibility of a reform. This is determined by the Chinese Communist Party’s special attributes. It is not because any one person has no intention to reform. We know that Wen Jiabao has been shouting about reforms for a decade. He actually occupied an important position, which was under one person but above all others. In fact, Wen did not do anything. Prior to him, Zhu Rongji was in the same situation. No one can really change the Communist Party’s current institution. A lot of people know that, without any changes, the Party may die after a while, but any reform may cause it to die immediately. This is because it has accumulated too many sins and chronic problems. They cannot be solved through reforms or changes.
Simone Gao: The year 2012 has come to an end, and people are ushering in 2013. However, chaos and messiness remain the theme of China’s current political scene. New leaders are making an aggressive debut. Retired party elders are also making aggressive returns. The aggressiveness of the so-called new generation of cadres and the resilient interference in politics by the elders co-exist. Regardless of how the different factions fight within the black, one thing is certain: none of them is willing to break that black box and expose everything to the light of day. To the China entering 2013, social justice and political transparency still remain goals, whose realization date is still uncertain. Thank you very much for watching this episode of Zooming In. See you next time.