The New Chinese Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities after the 16th Party Congress

By Chan, Alfred | The China Journal, July 2006 | Go to article overview

The New Chinese Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities after the 16th Party Congress


Chan, Alfred, The China Journal


The New Chinese Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities after the 16th Party Congress, edited by Yun-han Chu, Chih-cheng Lo and Ramon H. Myers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. viii + 256 pp. AUS$59.95 (paperback).

Twelve noted scholars in this book explore the implications of the orderly handover of Chinese leadership in 2002 by focusing on political succession and Jiang Zemin's legacy, the issues of continuity and change, and the challenges and opportunities confronting China today. Almost all political scientists, they present a wide range of stimulating opinions, although the editors could well have highlighted the differences in their introduction to give the readers a better roadmap. Several authors give the Jiang era high marks on issues such as political development and institutionalization and are optimistic about the incoming leadership's ability to cope with future challenges. Others are concerned with the incomplete succession-Jiang Zemin retaining the Military Affairs Commission chairmanship, and packing the Politburo with his protégés-fearing that conflicts might inhibit unity and initiative.

Lowell Dittmer's chapter notes the huge inequality and income gap, corruption and the failure to reform the industrial and financial sectors. But, he writes, "the major contribution of the Jiang administration has been to meet crisis with change, but change braced by stability, with an emphasis on administrative competence and a political culture of consensus and co-operation". Jiang's "three represents" broadened the Parry's support base by incorporating the middle class, and under him, China reached "maturity" in its foreign relations by engaging fully with the new world order, occupying a "powerful and satisfied" position.

Yu-Shan Wu focuses on what he calls "technocratic stability" which emerged after 1997 and consolidated in 2002. In contrast to the turbulent reform decade of the 1980s, Wu argues, the 1990s under Jiang/Zhu scored remarkable achievements in managing the economy. Economic success begat political tranquility and, paradoxically, the obsession with stability led to reforms in specific areas. The generational renewal which featured term and age limits also brought to the fore younger, pragmatic and better educated technocrats, non-ideological and status-quo-oriented. Wu suggests that although this leadership is "faceless" and displays a "lack of vision" it will be conducive to a dynamic and adaptive system; this, however, requires more explanation. Finally, Wu is concerned that the incomplete succession may exacerbate "mentor politics" and the influence of the Elders, now in their mid-70s, and even lead to gerontocracy.

David Shambaugh's chapter on the military discusses how sweeping changes in the PLA high command personnel in recent years was achieved through standardized procedures and regulations. Further bifurcation of Party and military has been conducive to professionalization and de-politicization of the PLA, making praetorian impulses and intervention in succession politics improbable. It can be expected that the PLA will focus exclusively on its own comprehensive modernization and development of its professional corporate identity.

In contrast, Richard Baum's evaluation of the mixed Jiang legacy is more reserved, as he argues that the vibrant economy and nascent civil society is offset by a political strategy of muddling through. The remaining Leninist institutions cannot handle the systemic stresses and rising socio-economic discontents. Urgently needed is the strengthening of "input institutions", and relaxation of Party control over religious and social groups, intellectual dissent, mass media and the government.

Similarly, Suisheng Zhao's chapter also claims that Jiang "has 'muddled through' in his 13 years of leadership", leaving successors to pick up the pieces. Zhao demonstrates the common background of the leadership in age, education, occupation and experience and argues that they are certain to continue gradual economic reform and political institutionalization and to shun bold policy initiatives. …

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