In the footsteps of Mao
The coincidence of simultaneous transitions at the top of the world’s two top economic powers does somewhat beg a contrasting look at their respective approaches to succession. Uncertainty, glorious, tantalising uncertainty, was the hallmark of the democratic model, awaiting the people’s verdict on Obama. But there will be no frisson of excitement in Beijing as new leader Xi Jinping is unveiled, nor any opportunity for the extended strip-tease of a US or Irish TV political results show.
Just the stability of the grave, in a political process which still resolves contests for power by silent unexplained purges or even jail. Only the Vatican embraces such opaqueness .
Ambitious Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai may well, conveniently, have been involved in the murder of a British businessman, but if he had not, another excuse would have been found to curtail his rise to the top. But certainly not a ballot – anything other, in the People’s Republic, than a decision by the people.
Yet the “stability” the party boasts as its justification conceals much. It is a fatal flaw or “contradiction” that inhibits the political evolution that could serve to vent building, potentially explosive, pressures. The result may well be, sooner or later, as good Marxists should understand, sudden, uncontrollable, revolutionary change. Democracy is not just about accountability, but a means, a far more efficient means, of managing change.
Real change now is certainly not in prospect in China. In his state of the nation address to the 2,300 hand-picked party delegates to the 18th Communist Party National Congress that opened last week, outgoing general secretary Hu Jintao promised political reform, but ruled out aping western-style democracy.
But the party has not been completely immune to growing criticism of its methods and the privileges of its “princeling” leaders, and Hu was forced to warn that corruption could yet be “fatal” to it. “Combating corruption and promoting political integrity, which is a major political issue of great concern to the people, is a clear-cut and long-term political commitment of the party,” he assured them. Revelations about his family’s personal wealth may not have been far from his mind.
Xi Jinping, who visited Ireland in February, and who is set to be named tomorrow to take his place, is one of that generation of “princelings”, a son of a key party figure of its early days. He is said to be a compromise candidate who can reconcile old and young factions of the revolutionary nobility and of the military with the technocratic currents which have dominated the leadership in recent years. His biggest challenge will be in drastically reforming China’s slowing economy, switching from its export-focus into one where domestic demand drives growth. All without rocking the boat.