Although nothing is certain in the realm of politics, the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China signals a victory for the status quo over substantive political and economic reform. That is bad news for the millions of Chinese subjects who will suffer increasing repression and good news for the political elite who will be granted at least five more years to line their pockets with expropriated wealth.
The promise that repression is to be favored over reform emanates from two sources, namely the reduced size and the changed composition of the Standing Committee that will rule China at least until 2017.
The size of the Committee has been reduced from nine to seven members. Such a reduction in the size of the minimum winning coalition always indicates, under conditions of dictatorship, that wealth will be moved increasingly in favor of the supporters of a narrow winning coalition as payoffs for loyalty to the regime. In such circumstances, since the oligarchs will not dissipate private transfers by increasing outlays on public goods, they must maintain order by increasing outlays on repression.
The composition of the Committee signals a victory for those who favor the status quo over those who press for political and economic reform. Most significant is the exclusion from the Committee of the two strongest figures in favor of political reform – Li Yuanchao, the head of the CPC organization department and Guangdong party chief, Wang Yang. Further signals of status quo resolve are the relegation of the reformist-minded Wang Qishan to the second lowest-ranked position on the Standing Committee and the appointment of Zhang Gaoili,a strong proponent of government-enterprise led growth.
Overall, the Committee reflects the continuing dominance of the 86 year-old former president, Jiang Zemin, over China’s Communist Party. Jiang’s influence will surely wane by 2017 – when most likely he will be dead – but for now the hard-liners retain control over the Standing Committee.
The next five years will evidence tight central political control, high levels of repression, increasing military threats to China’s neighbors, and slowing economic growth. The consequence may be coup d’etat or revolution come 2017.