Publication: China Brief Volume: 3 Issue: 2

Personnel issues are set to dominate the First Session of the Tenth National People’s Congress (NPC), due to convene on March 5. After having nailed down a sizeable number of senior Communist Party slots at the 16th CCP Congress last November, the Jiang Zemin (Shanghai) Faction is also expected to hit it big with positions in the State Council (central government). These developments will have a significant impact on factional dynamics, particularly whether new party chief Hu Jintao can consolidate his position as the “core” of the Fourth Generation of cadres.

Since he became premier in 1998, Zhu Rongji, aged 74, has to a large extent been able to resist Jiang’s attempts to install his protégés in the State Council. Since 2000, for example, Zhu has vetoed the effort to elevate Li Changchun, then party boss of Guangdong Province, to the post of vice premier. Li was so angry that he complained to his Guangdong associates about how Zhu “almost wrecked” his career. At this NPC, Zhu will be able to ensure cabinet appointments for a number of trusted aides and underlings. Thus his right-hand-man Wen Jiabao, 60, is set to be endorsed as premier. Another key associate, Wu Yi, 64, is due to be made vice premier in charge of foreign affairs and foreign trade.

For the first time since Jiang became party chief in 1989, however, the wily party elder has been able to promote a sizeable number of Shanghai Faction associates to key cabinet slots. They include Huang Ju, Zeng Peiyan, and Hui Liangyu, who are slated to become respectively executive vice premier, vice premier in charge of industry, and vice premier in charge of agriculture. Hua Jianmin, another rising star with a long association with Shanghai, is tipped to become State Council secretary general.

The expansion of the Shanghai Faction’s clout has made it even more likely that Jiang, 76, will stay on as the chairman of both the party and Central Military Commission (CMC) for a couple more years. This despite the fact that Jiang is due at this NPC to relinquish his state presidency in favor of Vice President Hu, and there is growing pressure on him to yield the CMC slot as well.

Even more significant, the scene is set for a showdown between Hu and Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member Zeng Qinghong, deemed Jiang’s alter ego and hatchet-man. Zeng, 63, who has a stranglehold over the CCP Secretariat–deemed the nerve center of the party–is slated to succeed Hu as state vice president in March. Moreover, quite a number of the new Politburo members–as well as likely new members of the Wen cabinet–are Zeng’s cronies as much as Jiang’s.

On the party side, members of this inchoate Zeng Qinghong Faction include CCP Organization Department Director He Guoqiang, Head of the Propaganda Department Liu Yunshan, Party Secretary of Jiangxi Province Meng Jianzhu, Guangdong party boss Zhang Dejiang and Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu. In the State Council, Hui and Hua, as well as the new Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang are deemed Zeng associates.

Political analysts in Beijing agree that Zeng is in a hurry to consolidate his position before the 17th Party Congress slated for 2007. This is partly due to the so-called qishang baxia (literally “seven, go up; eight, go down”) regulation that Jiang laid down at the 16th CCP Congress in order to shove aside long-time political foe Li Ruihuan.

“According to the qishang baxia rule, a cadre who is 68 is no longer eligible to stay in the Politburo, where the retirement age is 70,” said a veteran party cadre. “That was why Li, 68, had to step down [last November], whereas the protégé of NPC Chairman Li Peng, Luo Gan, 67, could stay in the Politburo for one more term.” He added that since Zeng would be 68 by the time of the 17th Party Congress, the ambitious Jiang protégé might maneuver to edge out Hu before that time.

Apart from trying to place Shanghai Faction affiliates into senior State Council slots, Zeng has sought to boost his powerbase by raising the political fortunes of party functionaries. The past year has seen a considerable number of CCP apparatchiks–specialists in ideological, propaganda and organizational matters–gaining in influence at the expense of professional, less ideologically inclined administrators such as ministers or mayors.

Thus, the bulk of members of the Politburo and the PSC elected at the 16th Congress are party hacks. For example, a record twelve party secretaries of provinces and directly administered cities–including the former and current party bosses of Shanghai and Beijing–became Politburo members last November. Moreover, quite a number of new State Council ministers–Huang, Hui, Zhou and the new Minister of Information Industry Wang Xudong–have distinguished themselves as party functionaries rather than professional administrators or managers.

Moreover, in lower-level administrations, it has become easier for party apparatchiks to be appointed to senior government posts. In the past, for example, heads of departments of a certain city had a good chance of being promoted to vice mayors or mayors. Under Zeng, priority is given to elevating the party bosses of counties and prefectures.

Analysts say that President Jiang and Zeng have vested interests in augmenting the powers of party functionaries because most Shanghai Faction members are career party hacks. The trend of investing more authority in party bosses is also evident in the growing number of provincial party chiefs who are being given concurrent appointments as chairmen of their region’s people’s congresses.

Earlier this month, the party secretaries of provinces including Fujian, Heilongjiang, Qinghai, Jilin, Sichuan, Guangxi, Ningxia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Inner Mongolia were made concurrently the heads of local parliaments. Thus, the bulk of the party chiefs of China’s thirty-one provinces and directly administered cities are doubling as chairmen of people’s congresses.

This phenomenon of so-called “cross leadership” runs counter to the principle of the separation of party and government that late patriarch Deng Xiaoping laid down in the mid-1980s. It also goes against the first major initiative undertaken by Hu since he became party general secretary last November: defending the constitution and the spirit of rule by law. “No organization and individual has special powers to override the constitution and the laws,” Hu said in a December address marking the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the 1982 constitution. “All state units, armed forces, political parties and social organizations must safeguard the authority and dignity of the constitution.”

Academics familiar with the thinking of the Hu camp think the new party chief is trying to rein in efforts by the party’s dominant Shanghai Faction–now under Zeng’s de facto control–to ride roughshod over other power blocs in the polity, including the smaller CCP factions, the State Council and the NPC itself. After all, an important function of the constitution is to ensure checks and balances among the nation’s disparate political and economic groupings. The academics say Jiang and Zeng’s power grab could lead to more internecine bickering within both the CPP and the government cabinet to be formed in March.

Willy Wo-Lap Lam, one of Asia’s best known journalists and authors, is a senior China analyst at CNN’s Asia-Pacific Office in Hong Kong.