China’s Un-American Non-Election
By Aubrey BelfordNovember 8, 2012
Crunching the numbers on the Communist Party.
Anyone feeling burned out by the hyperbole, partisanship and mass fervour of the presidential election that just passed in the United States might consider taking a trip to Beijing right now.
Starting Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party will kick off its 18th Congress, a week-long meeting that officially picks the next generation of China’s leaders, likely to be headed by the longtime heir-apparent, Xi Jinping. Another senior party official, Li Keqiang, is set to become the country’s number two. It’s a curious mix of spectacle and non-event, carried out behind a wall of secrecy, security and pomp. Everything has already been decided behind the scenes, before the Congress. Unless, of course, there has been some monumental, unforseeable cock-up.
The thing is that, despite the predetermined nature of the event, people are anxious. The Party has been undermined by recent public scandals, the economy is not as stellar as it once was, and the gap between rulers and ruled is widening. There has been plenty of speculation about the Communist Party’s internal intrigues and factional rivalries – machinations the outside world sees only murkily, if at all.
So let’s take the lack of debates, campaign rallies and attack ads as an opportunity. Let’s do something we seldom do when countries hold pesky democratic elections. Let’s look at the big picture.
Here are a few numbers that point to the machinery underpinning politics in China, a country that is richer, more powerful and more on edge than the last time it rotated its rulers.
The population of China. This is an obvious one, but let it just sink in for a moment.
officially sanctioned “democratic parties”, but we can ignore them, as that’s what everyone else does.The number of parties that matter in China. That’s the Chinese Communist Party, which has ruled since 1949. There are other small,
The thing about China is that it belongs to the Party. The government and its institutions follow the dictates of party officials, as does the state media. China has laws, but the law always bends to the will of the Party.
This doesn’t mean that the Party is monolithic. It’s riven by divisions between factions and interest groups, and local officials get away with all sorts of shenanigans when Beijing isn’t watching. But the point is that the Party is the only game in town.
The number of roles Xi will likely be taking on as head honcho. You’ll likely see plenty of reports that refer to Xi as China’s incoming president. This is true – though he won’t become president until next year – but it’s also the least important of the multiple roles that he’ll be taking. Most substantial is the position he’ll accept at this congress, that of General Secretary of the Communist Party. The other, crucial title of Chairman of the Central Military Commission is widely expected to go to Xi, though it remains uncertain whether China’s current supremo, Hu Jintao, will cede the role.
The number of seats likely to be appointed in the next Standing Committee of the Politburo, the Party’s highest decision-making body. The Standing Committee is the group of men (and possibly one woman this time) that steers China’s direction from the top, making its decisions by consensus. The current committee has nine members, but party leaders have reportedly decided to shrink it, to cut down on the clashes between different factions and interest groups, and so smooth out decision-making.
China’s annual gross domestic product, the second-largest in the world. The economy grew 7.4 per cent (over the year before) in the July-to-September quarter this year – fast by most world standards, but much slower than China has seen in recent years. In 2002, when the Communist Party last changed its leadership, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) was USD1.45 trillion.
one study of its society in 2010. Other sources put it higher. (The CIA puts it at 0.48 for 2009, the World Bank says it was 0.425 in 2005.) Either way, China has greater inequality than the US, and most commentators agree China is becoming more unequal, and rubbing tempers raw along the way. The income gap between urban and rural residents, though decreasing by some estimates, remains high; one think tank recently found city dwellers earn 5.2 times more than their rural cousins.China’s Gini coefficient — that is, the measure of inequality in the country, where a number closer to 1 is more unequal, a number closer to 0 is more equal — according to
instituting a raft of restrictions to choke the possibility of dissent during the meeting.The number of homing pigeons and balloons allowed in the skies above Beijing during the party congress. State security officials have stepped up their presence across the city, placing dissidents under arrest or driving them out of town, and
well-publicised corruption and murder scandal involving the death of British businessman (and, perhaps, spy) Neil Heywood, and the flight of Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, to a US consulate. Gu has already been convicted of the murder, while Bo awaits trial on charges including abuse of power and bribery.The number of top-level Communist Party officials who will lose their position in the wake of scandals this year. Bo Xilai, former party chief of Chongqing, was a rising star and widely considered a sure thing for the Standing Committee of the Politburo. That was before he and his wife, Gu Kailai, fell from grace in a
according to a recent investigation by The New York Times.The estimated wealth believed to have been accumulated by the family of Wen Jiabao, China’s second most powerful man, during his time in office,
according to Bloomberg. His family was also found to own a USD20.3 million share in a technology company and an 18 per cent stake in a rare-earths company that has USD1.73 billion in assets.Total assets value of companies invested in by the family of the incoming leader, Xi,
another Bloomberg estimate. By contrast, the 660 richest people in America’s legislature, judiciary and executive are worth USD7.5 billion.The combined wealth of the richest 70 members of China’s National People’s Congress, according to
The number of Chinese who moved to wealthy nations in 2010 — a dramatic rise over past decades. Despite the growing economy, more and more Chinese, many of them successful and from the upper middle class, are leaving the country out of frustration at a deteriorating environment, limited political freedom and widespread corruption.
trying to flee abroad with ill-gotten gains. It’s common for party officials to stash their money in foreign assets, send their families abroad, and use their wealth to help secure foreign residency or citizenship. A People’s Bank of China report that was accidentally made public last year, found thousands of officials had spirited nearly USD130 billion out of the country between the mid-1990s and 2008. Overall annual flows of money out of the country are greater still.The number of party apparatchiks known as luo guan, or “naked officials”, caught since 2000 while
As a side note, Australia appears to be cashing in on the flight of Chinese assets and their owners: the government recently unveiled a new visa for those immigrants who can invest AUD5 million in Australia. The visa — which is labelled with the lucky Chinese numbers 888 — even speeds up the time needed to gain permanent residency.
2012 budget for “public security”, as its rapidly growing apparatus of policing, internal repression and surveillance is known. This year’s budget was 11 per cent higher than the year before, which also coincides with the point at which China officially started spending more on internal security than on its own rapidly expanding military. No mean feat.That’s AUD107.6 billion and it’s China’s
This is probably the most important number in this whole equation. It’s precisely how many people can say with any certainty where China is heading next.
If you thoroughly enjoyed watching the US election but don’t think you can manage to sit through any part of the Communist Party’s big family bash, don’t feel bad. Unless it all falls to pieces in some unforeseen, spectacular way, it will be terribly boring.
And that’s just how China’s rulers, both incoming and outgoing, want it.