Three days before the start of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s 20th Party Congress, a colleague received an email from an unknown source touting an accurate prediction of the members of the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).
The email was poorly written in English, but the gist of it was that the foreign pundits have all been wrong, and he had “the most accurate name list” on the internet provided by an “exclusive source”, all at a going rate of US$2,000.
Surprisingly, industry peers got wind of the "offer" and one even considered taking it up. It seems that the lack of information has driven some to the point of desperation.
Opportunists amid uncertainty
Was someone trying to make a quick buck out of politics? Those of us who read the email were amused. It was most likely the handiwork of scammers who saw an opportunity to exploit speculation about the incoming PSC by tricking people with random names. The Chinese subject line of the email even riffed on the Chinese term for “Standing Committee” (using 常伟 instead of 常委) to create intrigue and as a cover-up.
A colleague joked that if the prediction was found to be inaccurate following the congress, would there be a refund? Surprisingly, industry peers got wind of the "offer" and one even considered taking it up. It seems that the lack of information has driven some to the point of desperation. For scammers to jump on this hot topic also shows that they are in touch with current affairs and talking points.
In general, the authorities have done a good job of keeping the approaching 20th Party Congress under wraps. They have apparently given delegates strict internal warnings to maintain discipline and not leak internal information, or risk being punished. This is probably the reason for this year’s successful exercise in confidentiality, and the source of my peers’ anguish.
Era of Xi affirmed
In fact, in a traditon of sorts, each time the five-yearly Party Congress approaches, a guessing game about the makeup of the next PSC intensifies outside the congress arena. Whether out of curiosity, interest in developments in China or pure spectator interest, no one is left out — from political observers and the media, to businessmen investing in China as well as the politically interested common folks.
On forums or in everyday conversation, it is the talk of the town. This is also how ordinary people participate in this major political event for the CCP — they still enjoy it even when they cannot influence the outcome.
However, in the new reality, does the makeup of the new PSC still hold significance?
From the report of the seventh plenary session of the 19th CCP Central Committee which closed on 12 October, the "Two Establishes" that affirms the authority of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping will most likely be written into the party constitution at the 20th Party Congress, thereby becoming the most important political dictum of the CCP.
The Two Establishes originated from the CCP’s third historical resolution — Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century — which was adopted at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CCP in November last year. It established “Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and defined the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.
... relative to the overall party direction, the composition of the PSC is no longer as important as it used to be.
The Two Establishes further affirmed the Xi era of “one position as the highest authority” (定于一尊) with the final say. The CCP higher-ups now emphasise centralised and unified leadership, instead of the collective leadership that was seen in the past. Evidently, relative to the overall party direction, the composition of the PSC is no longer as important as it used to be.
Largely unchanged amid call for stability
CCP journal Qiushi (《求是》) released an article in May that quoted Xi’s explanation of the need to have one position as the highest authority. As a big party and large country, Xi said that if the Central Committee does not have one position as the highest authority, and officials do things their own way instead of what the Central Committee has decided, nothing can be accomplished.
However, Xi also stated that the centralisation of power must be executed on the basis of democracy. Hence, the PSC members as a team still have a role to play. Aside from the party’s general secretary, also under the spotlight are the two people who are most senior and highly ranked in the PSC that may serve as the chair of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the premier of the State Council.
In addition to the general secretary staying in office, stability would most probably be prioritised in the team structure, which is expected to stay roughly the same.
The PSC has consisted of between five and seven members since 1982. However, following the CCP’s 18th Party Congress in 2012, the number of members has remained at seven. This would unlikely change after the 20th Party Congress. In addition to the general secretary staying in office, stability would most probably be prioritised in the team structure, which is expected to stay roughly the same.
While there are no absolute rules for the composition of leaders, there are still some guidelines to follow. The various lists that have been circulating online are also a competition to see who has a better grasp of the rules.
Also, the attention that has been placed on the new PSC indirectly reflects China’s influence, as people have growing expectations of an increasingly benevolent and open government, and are anxious about an uncertain and opaque future. When expectations are intertwined with anxiety, that’s when scammers seize the business opportunity and strike.
For Lianhe Zaobao's special reports on the 20th Party Congress, click here.
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