New Internationalist

Hu’s who

Issue 423

Just who is running the show in China?

The star – China’s President, Hu Jintao – and the type of cogs that make his country’s power pump: entrepreneurs like Liu Chuanzhi – Chair of Lenovo Group – the world’s fourth-largest makers of personal computers; members of the largest standing army in the world; state officials such as Li Yizhong, head of the State Administration of Work Safety; and China’s resilient 1.3 billion people – including 70-year-old Shi Jinsheng, from Qinghai Province.

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
The government

Profile: Ruling China since 1949 as a totalitarian regime, the CCP has nearly 70 million members. Initially representing the working masses, peasant and worker membership decreased from 66 per cent in 1978 to 29 per cent in 2005.1 Also in 2005,  23 per cent of party members were professionals and 30 per cent were college students. Women are under-represented. In 2006, 80.9 per cent of members were men while 80 per cent of new members are now under 35.2

Main goal: To retain its one-party rule by maintaining social stability.

Strategy: Abandon a communist-style planned economy offering sparse benefits to the people, and replace it with a market economy still heavily directed by the central government. Crush threats to one-party rule or those seeking independence within China’s borders. Undercut mass unrest by extending personal freedom in nearly all other areas. Dissolve rigid party élites and instead co-opt social élites (middle-class professionals, academics, entrepreneurs) to absorb potential disunity and strengthen the breadth of the party’s rule.1,2 Retain the ability to use economic incentives to secure loyalty of the social elites.1

Networks: Penetrates all aspects of society. Being a party member is a legitimate way to build a power base.

Leaders: Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CCP and President of People’s Republic of China since 2003; Wen Jiabao, Premier (head of government) since 2003. The 2,987 member National People’s Congress – the primary legislature in China – is subordinate to the CCP.

Power rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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The entrepreneurs
The money

Profile: A hybrid group combining state-owned enterprises, individual businesses and giant Chinese and foreign corporations. Although usually the greatest critics of Communist Party rule, some in their ranks have been the biggest winners, enjoying the breakneck pace of capitalist reform in a system that silences the losers. The Chinese State still owns the country’s largest companies, maintaining monopolistic control in key industries (such as energy, transport, banking and communications). Senior and mid-level executives in state controlled enterprises are appointed by the CCP.1

Main goal: To make money.

Strategy: Maintain favour with the CCP.

Networks: Cross-pollination between entrepreneurs and the CCP and state officials is prolific. By 2006 there were around 6 million owners of private firms in China: about two-thirds were former state officials.2 The CCP counts 2.86 million employers and employees from private enterprise in its ranks, as well as 40 per cent of all heads of private and individual enterprises.2

Power rating:  ★ ★ ★

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The military
The guns

Profile: The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may boast the world’s largest standing army, but its influence has declined over the last decade.

Main goal: To build a military commensurate with the economic might of China – not to conquer but to defend China’s expanding wealth.3

Strategy: Nationally, the size of the army and police force means that any people’s uprising or challenge to authority can be decisively quelled. Internationally its stance is defensive. China has learned from Russia and is not about to enter a resource-sapping arms race like that which  overstretched the superpowers during the 1980s.1 Although military spending is increasing by over 10 per cent each year, China’s admirals are arguing for economic and diplomatic soft power ‘weapons’ rather than the use of military hardware.3

Networks: Nearly 9 per cent of CCP members are in the military and armed police.1 Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China, is also commander-in-chief of the PLA.

Power rating:  ★ ★ ★

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Conspicuously absent
 Judges

Forget about doctrines like ‘separation of powers’ and ‘rule of law’. Every court president and vice-president is appointed by the CCP. The courts are funded by provincial governments and are often instructed about what decisions to make. In 2003, 794 judges were tried for corruption.4

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State officials
The glue

Profile: There are five tiers of government: national; provincial; municipal; county and township. In 1979 there were 2.3 million people on the government payroll. By 1997, there were 8 million.5 While in 2005 they made up only 8 per cent of CCP membership,1 their position gives them power and patronage.

Main goal: Public service has been displaced by attaining personal privileges in many areas of China’s government, particularly in the lower levels.5

Strategy: Strive to satisfy the policy outcomes desired by the CCP officials. Attain personal advantage through position, too often at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.5

Networks: To maintain loyalty the CCP allows families and friends of ruling élites to enjoy the benefits of the country’s growing economic spoils.5 Labour activists say that the sons and daughters of officials have made millions as Chinese entrepreneurs in the IT industry. Retired officials are overrepresented as heads of private firms (see The Entrepreneurs).6

Power rating:  ★ ★

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The people of China
The threat

Profile: While there is a growing urban middle class amongst China’s 1.3 billion people, 900 million people are rural, with 500 million of working-age vying for work sufficient for only 100 to 200.5 As a result, an estimated 140 million have migrated from their villages to urban areas in search of work. Many face appalling working and living conditions.

Main goal: To make an adequate living.

Barriers: Government neglect. Although the CCP has made strong proclamations of support for rural workers, the on-the-ground effect has been minimal.  A hands-off approach has allowed corruption to flourish, helping to create an increasing gap between urban and rural which is now so large that it blatantly discriminates against the majority of China’s population who live in the countryside.5

Strategy: None. But growing discontent over land expropriation, taxes, corruption and environmental pollution means that violent demonstrations are increasing. In August 2007 alone there were 7,719 demonstrations involving 1,207 deaths and injuries.5

Networks: More than 250,000 non-governmental organizations – each of which must be supervised by a government or party unit2. The growing middle class is asking for fairer outcomes for migrant workers.2

Present power rating: ★

Primary references and recommended reading:

  1. Minxin Pei, ‘How China is ruled’ in The American Interest Vol 3, No 4, March-April 2008.
  2. Jean-Louis Rocca, ‘Democracy within the Communist Party is the New Answer’ in Le Monde diplomatique, 20 August 2008.
  3. Mark Leonard What does China Think? Fourth Estate, London, 2008.
  4. Chen Guidi & Wu Chuntao, Will the boat sink the water? HarperCollins, New York, 2006.
  5. Will Hutton The writing on the wall – China and the West in the 21st Century Abacus, London, 2007.

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