Hu’s Successor is Xi
Debasish Chaudhuri

Appointment of Vice President Xi Jinping to the post of Vice Chairman of Central Military Commission (CMC) in the recently concluded Fifth Plenum of the 17th Congress of CPC further indicates that the stage is ready for Mr. Xi to take up the cudgel from President Hu Jintao by 2012. Given the unstable and unprecedented conditions confronting China today, the highest political management of the country certainly would prefer choosing a consensus candidate as the next president and not indulge in power contests within the party for political succession. Apparently all political factions within the Party have been showing respect to the practice of smooth and peaceful succession laid down during Hu’s elevation. For various reasons, Xi Jinping is widely seen as a consensus candidate rather than the ablest among those who were promoted to the Political Bureau of the Central Committee at the First Plenum of 17th Congress in 2007.

Inclusion into the CMC is a very important step for the prospective president in the politico-military system of China. Hu Jintao was installed as vice chairman of the CMC at the Fourth Plenum of the 15th Central Committee in 1999 and later as CMC chairman when Jiang Zemin retired from the post in 2004. Last year before the Fourth Plenum many anticipated appointment of Xi Jinping as the first vice chairman of CMC. Some believe that entry of Xi into the CMC has been delayed because the military leaders of the country feel that he needs a longer probationary period before he finally assumes the post of chairman of military commission.

Xi Jinping however has more experience in military than Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao before they took military leadership in China. In the early phase of his career Xi worked for three years as a personal secretary of Geng Biao, then secretary general of CMC and defense minister. He held the position of party first secretary in the regional military districts in Fujian, Nanjing and Zhejiang provinces.

Xi Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun was an old revolutionary and former vice-premier. The sons and daughters of high ranking cadres who are highly placed in the government and party in China are often called princelings (太子党) and Xi Jinping is so far the most successful among them. Many people in China believe that the princeilings of the fifth generation leaders like Xi Jinping, Bo Xilai and Yu Zhengsheng received favorable treatment throughout their career because of their family connections. There is a high concentration of princilings in the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police, which might prove to be a main source of power for Xi Jinping, towards ascending to the top and to rule the country with unprecedented authority.

Many people like to compare Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, the likely replace of Premier Wen Jiabao. Li Keqiang was a brilliant student who entered the Department of Law in Beijing University after clearing entrance examination, and later studying economics and completing his Ph. D. under the supervision of Prof. Li Yining, one of the outstanding economists of the contemporary China. According to his official bio-data, Xi Jinping on the other hand, studied chemical engineering from Qinghua University, and later specialized in Marxist theory and political education and also acquired Ph. D. in Law. From July this year on, however, many people in China began to question his doctorate degree and criticize him for fabricating his academic profile by using his connections. It is noteworthy that two other prominent members of the 17th Central Committee, Liu Yandong and Li Yuanchao also have Ph. D. degrees but no one is pointing finger towards them. Whether this attack against Xi Jinping is a manifestation of struggle between princelings and Communist Youth League clique or based on facts, needs to be examined carefully.

There are people who even tend to see popularity of Xi Jinping’s wife Peng Liyuan, one of the most popular star singers in China as a proof of his mediocrity. Peng Liyuan is also a high ranking official in the cultural division of the PLA. Her patriotic songs and paeans dedicated to the soldiers are the source of aspiration for people within and outside the armed forces. Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan together can raise patriotic fervor, a valued asset for Chinese leaders.

Moreover, Xi Jinping, during the Cultural Revolution had lived in Yanan, the most important base of the Chinese communists during the revolutionary war and he became a member of the communist party while he was there. This is certainly a great asset for the next CPC general secretary when the party is in a greater need for reclaiming its revolutionary tradition. It appears that Xi Jinping exploits this asset consciously. When he was appointed as the governor of Zhejiang in 2002, he specially visited Nanhu district, where in 1921 the first generation communist leaders held a close door meeting inside a boat on a lake to declare the birth of Chinese communist party.

There are two distinct groups inside the party – one group feels the need for political reform and other attaches importance to the one party dictatorship. The general impression about Xi Jinping is that like Hu Jintao he does not easily reveal what he actually believes. Xi had worked in Fujian for over fifteen years and must have observed democratic transformation in Taiwan across the strait. Many in Taiwan and Mainland China believe that today’s Taiwan is the future of China. It is however not clear as to which direction Xi would lead the country in the future.

Xi Jinping is still far from taking country’s foreign policy decisions, but he has already given enough indication during his visit to Mexico that he could be a tough guy in dealing with foreigners. While meeting some overseas Chinese during the visit, Xi retorted that some foreigners after stuffing their stomach have nothing else to do but point fingers at China.


Bo Zhiyue, “The Fourth Party Plenum and Political Succession in China”, EAI Background Brief No. 480
Peter Ford, “China’s next leader? A look at Xi Jinping’s rise”
Mark Mackinnon, “Xi Jinping: A princeling and future king”

Published Date : October 25, 2010

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