Understanding China’s Leadership Transition
While the US licks its psychic wounds after an ugly 2012 election and settles back into its usual partisan squabbling (Oh, Hi John Boehner), the real most important country in the world has begun a governmental transition of its own. It’s called the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and it started Thursday. There won’t be much popular voting going on, but unlike America, the leadership that will emerge from the process will feature a different set of characters than it started with.
The Congress is political theater—emphasis on the theater. The action takes place inside the main auditorium of Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. All the important casting decisions were made months in advance. Party members in the lead roles will deliver lengthy soliloquies. And everyone is heavily discouraged from going off-script.
Practically, Xi Jinping will soon replace Hu Jintao as leader of the Communist Party of China and President of People’s Republic. The Politburo will induct new members, and a bunch of other shit will happen.
As exciting as it seems that the world’s most populated country and soon-to-be leading economic force is changing leaders, the proceedings themselves are pretty boring. But against the backdrop of corruption, murder, and suppression, this Congress comes at a critical and complicated point in the country’s history.
SETTING THE STAGE
It’s been a rough year for the Communist Party.
First, one of the civil rights activists they were illegally keeping under house arrest managed to escape and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he and his family were eventually granted asylum. This guy must be ninja Houdini, right? Actually, he’s a blind, self-taught lawyer named Chen Guangcheng.
Second, one of their most senior members, Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing and one of the elite 25 who make up the Politburo, was found to have conspired with his wife to murder a British national.
What’s worse, the story only broke because Bo’s insanely corrupt vice-mayor and police chief, Wang Lijun, decided to stop protecting his even more insanely corrupt boss.
On February 6th, Wang, fearing for his life, ran to the US consulate in neighboring Sichuan province with evidence that Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, had conspired to murder a British businessman named Neil Heywood, who may or may not have been a spy. You can’t make this shit up.