Predictions and guesses for China’s 5th Generation Politburo Standing Committee
by Alison Reynolds, Executive Director, International Tibet Network

In September or October China is due for a once-a-decade change in its top leadership. In the last week Reuters has reported that China’s current leaders are seriously considering postponing the handover, to allow more time to debate the size and make-up of the next Politburo Standing Committee in the wake of the sacking of high-flyer Bo Xilai. Reuters’ sources said that any delay in the 18th Party Congress would likely be a matter of weeks rather than months, as China is anxious to dispel perceptions of serious infighting among senior leaders, but with the Financial Times now reporting that powerful public security Tsar Zhou Yongkang has been forced to relinquish many of his responsibilities, that seems a forlorn hope.

The Politburo Standing Committee is China’s paramount authority, essentially its Board of Directors. Sweeping changes are expected at the 18th Party Congress, since seven of the current nine Politburo Standing Committee members are due to retire. But the April dismissal of Bo Xilai, a princeling who seemed assured of a seat, is likely to have disrupted discussions on how to balance factions, ideologies, power-bases and roles on this increasingly consensus-driven body.

While the identity of two of the next Politburo Standing committee seems beyond doubt – Xi Jinping another ‘princeling’ who will become General Secretary and Li Keqiang who will be Premier of the State Council – there are no guarantees who else will be among the anointed, that the current make-up of roles on PSC will be retained, or that there will be nine, rather than seven or eleven, members going forward.

Final decisions are likely to be thrashed out during the leaders’ informal summer seaside retreat at Beidaihe, but what do we know about those in the running?

Our Top Tips
Wang Qishan: currently a Vice Premier, Wang Qishan is well connected (an honorary “cousin” of US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner) and regarded as a high calibre problem-solver. He seems a strong candidate for high office, possibly taking on the National People’s Congress.

Liu Yandong: China’s most senior woman politician, Liu’s career has encompassed leading roles in the Communist Youth League, (she is a protégé of Hu Jintao), and United Front Work Department. With United Front work still in her portfolio as a State Councillor and as Vice Chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, she is a natural candidate to succeed Jia Qinglin with (at least nominal) responsibility for Tibet, and it seems likely her connections with Hu Jintao would allow him to continue to exert influence on Tibet policy from behind the scenes.

Liu Yunshan: as the head of the Propaganda Department, Liu Yunshan must consider his chances are fairly good of succeeding Li Changchun as China’s Propaganda Tsar. Is he as much of a hardliner as Li Changchun? That’s not clear, but it’s worth noting that he spent 20 years working in Inner Mongolia.

Meng Jianzhu: currently the Minister for Public Security, Meng is potentially the primary beneficiary of the sacking of Bo Xilai (who some predicted was in line for the Law and Order portfolio on the Politburo Standing Committee), and the reported sidelining of current public security tsar Zhou Yongkang. Have recent events given him a fast track ticket to the top?

Li Yuanchao: Li is China’s personnel officer, running the vast, faceless and hugely powerful Organisation Department, which decides where Party Members will be placed. Like Wang Qishan and Liu Yandong, Li is one of several ‘princelings’ in the running for the Politburo Standing Committee. With princeling Xi Jinping taking the top job, the need to balance factions may mean there simply isn’t enough space for every one of these princelings.

Wang Yang: currently Party Secretary of Guangdong, Wang gained fame as Party chief in Chongqing for economic development, coupled with a rational and humane response to protest and liberalization of control of media. A similar approach in Guangdong, sometimes openly against Beijing policies, presumably means we should be rooting for him.

Other Candidates:
Zhang Dejiang: one of four Vice-Premiers, in March this year Zhang replaced Bo Xilai as Party Secretary of Chongqing. His previous career has been affected by some controversy: SARS cover-up, harsh treatment of protesters and media, but his reputation appears to have recovered.

Yu Zhengsheng: Yet another princeling. Party Secretary of Shanghai, Yu’s career was temporarily stalled by the defection to the United States of his brother, who is an intelligence official.

Zhang Gaoli: Party Secretary of Tianjin. An economist, obviously capable, but no real information available.

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