China : The Battle for the Top Nine Leadership Posts
There is no better vantage point for understanding Chinese leadership politics than to analyze the nine individuals who make up the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). Despite the highly diverse and divergent assessments of elite politics which populate the overseas China-watching communities, the last decade has witnessed a surprisingly strong consensus emerge on the pivotal importance of the PSC. The top Chinese leader, General Secretary of the Party and President Hu Jintao, is now understood to be no more than the “first among equals” in this supreme decisionmaking body. Within the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a new Chinese term, jiuchangwei, was recently created to refer exclusively to these nine political heavyweights. In line with this development, the Chinese authorities have placed increasing emphasis on “collective leadership,” which the 2007 Party Congress Communiqué defines as “a system with division of responsibilities among individual leaders in an effort to prevent arbitrary decision-making by a single top leader.”
The composition of the new PSC—especially the generational attributes and individual idiosyncratic characteristics, group dynamics, and the factional balance of power on the committee—will have profound implications for China’s economic priorities, social stability, political trajectory, and foreign relations. Who are the leading candidates? Through what process will they be chosen? How do their political and professional backgrounds resemble or differ from each other? Into which factional alliances or political coalitions are they divided? What political strategies might they adopt to secure one of the nine spots on the PSC in the months leading up to the 18th Party Congress? What economic agenda, sociopolitical initiatives, and foreign policies will each member of this powerful group be likely to promote? Thoughtfully addressing these questions is essential for the United States and other countries, particularly at a time when China has more influence on the world economy and regional security than perhaps ever before.