You are here

Continuity and Change at the 11th National People’s Congress in China

Dr. Raviprasad Narayanan was Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • March 24, 2008

    The recently concluded 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) held in Beijing from March 5-18 was noteworthy for two significant features – administrative restructuring of the government and introduction of personnel changes at the very highest echelons of the one-party state.

    The seventh plenary meeting of the NPC was attended by 2946 deputies who voted to approve Government Work Reports and elect new leaders to high positions. As part of the process of ‘government institutional restructuring’ five supra ministries were created – the ministries of human resources and social security, industry and information, environmental protection, housing and urban-rural construction and transport. The very nomenclature of these ministries is suggestive of the spill over of the reform process and the administrative measures required to address dislocations. The admission by premier Wen Jiabao of an 8.5 percent growth rate in 2008 and the impact of the freak winter weather this year are pointers to the temporary slowing down of the world’s fourth largest economy.

    The energy sector also came up for some administrative changes. In a measure to streamline government management of the energy sector, a national energy commission is to be established apart from the appointment of a high-level inter-ministerial coordinator and the creation of a national bureau of energy which will function within the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Importantly, the role and functions of the National Bureau of Energy will be related to managing energy requirements and capacity, coordinating the National Energy Leading Group and taking over the functions of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) on the management of nuclear power. With these changes, the State Council headed by Premier Wen Jiabao comprises twenty seven Ministries.

    While administrative restructuring is typical of the need to emphasise ‘better governance and deliverance’ the Hu Jintao leadership has taken pains to point out the significance of political institutionalisation as a ‘necessity’ to keep China firmly on the reform track.

    The personnel changes at the NPC deserve some attention. At the apex, Hu Jintao was ‘re-elected’ President for a five year term and so was Wen Jiabao as premier. The top lawmaker Wu Bangguo was ‘elected’ Chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC. Xi Jinping was ‘elected’ the new vice-president and replaces Zeng Qinghong. At fifty five, Xi Jinping becomes the vice-president less than six months after his elevation to the nine-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of Communist Party of China (CPC) last October. As vice-president, Xi Jinping will be heading the Central Party School (CPS), the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs bureaus as well as chair the leading group in charge of the Beijing Olympics later this summer.

    A team of four new vice-premiers was ‘approved’ at the NPC. They are: Li Keqiang, Hui Liangyu, Zhang Dejiang and Wang Qishan. At fifty three, as first vice-premier, Li Keqiang, has had a dramatic rise within the leadership since he became a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC in October 2007.

    The personnel changes at the top level with a new vice-president and first vice-premier is indicative of the leadership choices China has made to succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao when they step down in 2012-13. Both Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang represent a generation born after the founding of the People’s Republic and are widely considered to be the ‘core of the fifth generation’ although the Chinese media and academic circles do not label them thus. The Cultural Revolution was a phase that saw Xi Jinping sent to a remote village in Shaanxi province for six years and Li Keqiang work in a brigade attached to a commune for two years in Anhui province.

    The selection of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang represent a fundamental shift in the nature of educational qualifications of the top leadership. If the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao leadership phases had brought to the fore a ‘technocratic’ dispensation, both Xi and Li represent the rise of a ‘legalist’ leadership with their backgrounds in law. This is reflective of the Chinese leadership’s constant emphasis on the ‘rule of law’ to be ‘transformed from a governing instrument to fundamental goal of reform.’ The ticket to legitimacy for the CPC apart from ensuring the success of the reforms is to put in place a system where the ‘rule of law’ is paramount.

    Unless grave political mistakes are made by either Xi Jinping or Li Keqiang, the Chinese leadership in the post Hu-Wen period will be of a ‘legalist’ orientation fixated upon ‘maintaining the uniformity, solemnity and authority of the socialist legal system’ as well as one that will strive to ‘safeguard social harmony and stability’ – important themes in the light of recent incidents in Tibet.