HONG KONG — While many foreign press reports recently stressed the ways in which China was becoming more capitalist, only London’s Financial Times cautioned readers about how the country remains indubitably communist.

While the rules of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are being changed to admit entrepreneurs, the constitution was changed so that communist cells will permeate private enterprise in future.

Many foreign media reports conveyed the simplistic image of a nation that was ceasing to be communist. The changes to Article 32 of the CCP charter suggested, to the contrary, that private enterprise within China would not be wholly private.

As the FT report succinctly noted, after quoting Li Rongrong, minister at the State Economic and Trade Commission on this policy change: “While private business was getting into the party, the party was also getting into private business.”

Meanwhile a few interesting facts have emerged concerning China’s nine new communist rulers, the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. This is the core “Cabinet” that will effectively govern China for the next five years, under the tutelage of China’s latest paramount leader, Jiang Zemin.

Only one of the nine has studied overseas, and that in a country that no longer exists.

All nine were trained as engineers of one kind or another; none studied history or political science. They all come from the same age group, ranging from 58 to 66, and were born just before or during World War II. They all joined the party either just before or during Mao’s chaos-creating Cultural Revolution.

Eight members of the 16th Standing Committee are newcomers, about whom relatively little is known. But given the pervasive secrecy which is still one of the basic characteristics of Chinese politics, not a great deal is known about any Chinese leader.

Hu Jintao (soon to be 60), the new CCP general secretary, is the only holdover from the 14th and 15th Standing Committees. The world’s media has generally had a field day recently along the lines of “Who is Hu?”

But more remarkably, little is known about President Jiang’s basic political beliefs and inner convictions either, even though he has been in the international spotlight for 13 years.

It follows that no outsider, and very few Chinese, know for certain precisely how, why, and by whom these nine men were chosen to head the CCP hierarchy. It is known that the public show of “voting” at the 16th Congress was an empty formality.

It is also assumed that the close relationship that at least six of the nine have with Jiang had a great deal to do with their elevation. Throughout their tenure, the nine will appear — in public and on television — in the strict order of seniority in which they appeared for the first time on Nov. 16. This ranking will govern the titular succession which will be completed at the National People’s Congress (NPC) session next March.

First-ranked CCP General Secretary Hu will then become president. Judging from recent precedent, second-ranked Wu Bangguo, 61, will then replace Li Peng as chairman of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese Parliament.

Third-ranked Wen Jiabao, 60, will replace Zhu Rongji as premier, and fourth-ranked Jia Qinglin, 62, will replace Li Ruihuan as chairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Li’s departure from the Standing Committee came as a surprise to some, since he is only 68 and was thought likely to become NPC chairman. Some China-watchers tag Li as a liberal in the CCP spectrum and therefore see his departure as a “liberal” defeat akin to Qiao Shi’s exit from the Standing Committee at the 15th congress in 1997.

Jia’s further promotion came as surprise to many and underlines the power of Jiang’s patronage. Jia was first party secretary in Fujian Province when a huge smuggling scandal was taking place there. If he did not know about it, he was incompetent, and if he did know about it, it is puzzling that the scandal assumed such large dimensions. Yet this questionable role did not stop him being promoted to first party secretary in Beijing, reportedly at Jiang’s insistence.

Sixth-ranked Huang Ju, 64, is likely to become executive deputy premier replacing Li Lanqing, after a decade first as mayor and then first party secretary in Shanghai, Jiang’s power base. Huang has reportedly been in charge of the project to build Jiang a substantial retirement home in Shanghai.

Seventh-ranked and surprise choice Wu Guanzheng, 64, is slated to be in charge of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a key post for combating corruption.

Wu undoubtedly owed his promotion to Jiang, as does Li Changchun, 58, a northerner who has been until recently first party secretary in Guangdong, China’s richest province adjacent to Hong Kong.

Wen Jiabao is thought of as primarily a protege of retiring Premier Zhu Rongji but is also thought to be close to Jiang. The only close associate of retiring NPC Chairman and former Premier Li Peng in the new lineup is ninth-ranked Luo Gan, the oldest member at 67, who is likely to have a key role in what has become his specialty, managing security affairs. Luo is the only Standing Committee member who has resided abroad, having spent eight years in the former East Germany.

This leaves fifth-ranked Zeng Qinghong, 63, who will now take over from Hu as the head of the Secretariat of the CCP Central Committee, a key post when it comes to managing party personnel matters. More importantly, Zeng is the only member of the new Standing Committee who exudes both charisma and self-confidence, partly because of his longtime role as Jiang Zemin’s confidant.

One speculation is that Zeng may also become state vice president, replacing Hu, at the next NPC sessions. More important, many China-watchers assume that Zeng will wield more real influence in the new set-up than Hu yet does — a real possibility, given the old Chinese tradition that power follows the man, not the office.

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