Hu : Leading China’s Technocratic Leadership

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As Chinese leaders retire after a hectic session of the 17th Party Congress, the new hierarchy in Beijing denotes a mix of the traditional and the modern. Top of the pyramid is the undisputed leader, Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee followed by eight Members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau. A review of profile of these leaders would provide a glimpse on how China would possibly charge ahead in the next five years until the next party congress in 2012.

In the power matrix, Hu remains the undisputed leader as the General Secretary and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. In his mid sixties, by any standards, Hu could be considered as a reasonably young leader of a nation with over 70 percent of its population falling in the working age category. A majority of the privileged in the Standing Committee are Hu’s contemporaries except two, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang in both their fifties and the media is already speaking about this being the new generation of leadership in China. A distinct gap of a decade between leaders as Hu or Wen and Xi may indicate that this suggestion may not be wholly off the mark. Yet whether they would rise up the haloed hierarchy to replace Wen or Hu remains to be seen.

Another distinctive feature is affiliation to the Communist party, which spans for over four decades for the seniors and quite naturally for about three decades for the younger generation. The older generation joined the Party when it was entering its most defining phase, the Cultural Revolution in the sixties, while Xi and Li became members when the Revolution was on its last legs culminating in the arrest of the Gang of Four. This was also the period when the Central Committee had been purged and replaced by the Central Cultural Committee. Classically the older leadership could be called as those who grew up in the Party with memories of the Cultural Revolution while the younger leaders may have seen the purge of the Gang of Four in 1976.

That all leaders are ethnic Han is quite natural with over 90 percent of the population being Han and others as Mongols, Tibetans or Uygurs lacking numbers to be represented at the higher level of leadership in the CPC. Induction of a non Han leader in the inner sanctum of the CPC may not be forth coming in the years to come.

The most significant aspect of the leadership however is overwhelming predominance of technocrats. Of the nine leaders in the Standing Committee, seven have a technical background, with six being qualified engineers while one, Zhou Yongkang is a specialist in geophysical exploration with position as a senior academician. Wen is the other one specializing in geological field. Hu leads the pack of technocrats and is a hydrological engineer; there is one electronics engineer, (Wu), two electrical engineers (Jia, Li) and one chemical engineer (He). Ironically, the younger leaders Zi and Le are the only non-technocrats in the hierarchy. Xi Jinping has majored in humanities while, Li Keqiang is an economist.

Does it indicate that there is a possible shift in Chinese leadership from technocracy to a more balanced mix with those majoring in subjects such as economics or politics gaining ground? There are no indications to this effect and technocrats are likely to continue in the days ahead. China produces over 600,000 engineers each year, though many doubt technical competence of these large numbers, as quite a few of them are said to be diploma holders by global standards. But even if these figures were discounted by 50 percent, one would still have over 300,000 engineers graduating from China, which is a huge number and denotes the likely influence of technocracy in the years ahead. Given China’s growth trajectory with focus on infra structure, engineers could be seen attaining prime positions in power in the years ahead.

Yet perhaps others need not despair, if the first indications of the new generation are seen in perspective. An economist no doubt would fit the picture quite nicely, but what about Xi. Well he has majored in Marxist theory and ideological education and significantly studied basic organic synthesis at the Chemical Engineering Department of Tsinghua University for a period of four years from 1975 to 1979. That leaves only Li Keqiang who is pure and pure economist, holding a doctorate in economics besides studying law. Therefore, he is the lone ranger in a pack of technocrats. That is Chinese leadership today for you.

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.