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China’s 17th National CPC Congress – The Way Ahead

The politics of a country where the government, party and polity is all held within one body and forum, the Community Party is difficult to fathom. However, the concept of Chinese Communism embodies review of the nation’s progress on all fronts within a structured system. The National Congress of Communist Party of China (CPC), held once in five years is such an epochal event. Traditionally this is held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and is a party congress rather than a people’s congress, which is akin to a legislative assembly held each year in March.

The CPC held once in five years brings about changes of ideas, ideologies, focus and leadership within the party spanning half a decade. The 17th CPC National Congress is slated to be held in Beijing from 15 October and all eyes on the pronouncements within the party that may affect the next five years.

Most democracies have such party congregations almost every year and some active parties in democracies as India could even have it twice in a year. However, the Chinese prefer to take a long-term view and thus hold a CPC Congress once in every five years. The last or 16th Congress was held in November 2002. At the 17th Congress over 2200 key delegates are expected to attend along with a number of special invitees.

One of the main purposes of the CPC Congress is to highlight the ideological leanings of the party’s top hierarchy. During the 16th Congress, Jiang Zemin had come up with his, “three represents” or, that the Party must always, “represent the requirements of the development of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of the development of China’s advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China”.

Will the CPC endorse these three advancements remains to be seen? This will be dependent as much on perception of the hierarchy of needs of the time as well as relative status of proponents of the theory. The three represents, indicate enhanced production of goods and material, culture and consolidation of party politics. It has invited some debate in the past. Thus, the Congress may not whole-heartedly support the concept. The power shifts within the party are also indicative that, three represents is passe as Jiang Zemin who’s ‘red’ star fostered it has since declined with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao taking centre stage. A clear indication of the same will be evident during the Congress.

The Hu-Wen duo has fostered the concept of building a harmonious society. This includes development of democracy, rule of law, justice and energy along with sincerity and good will. Better relationship is sought to be developed between environment and the people.

This is no doubt a pragmatic approach as it addresses China’s key concerns of the day, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the west and the east, the ecological imbalance created by rapid growth, which is also accompanied by social tensions. While the concept of democracy in an autocratic patriarchic society may appear quite fuzzy, the Chinese leadership is known to allow considerable latitude at the lower level, the cities and cantons for dissent. Thus, there are reportedly over 70,000 incidents of local protests in China each year.

The change in ideology or central precepts is as much a function of leadership as contemporary needs of political and social controls. The formation of the new Central committee and the Central Commission of Discipline Inspection will indicate any power shifts in the top hierarchy of the Communist party. All indications are that Hu Jintao will consolidate his position and retain control over the Central Committee. Since this is more of a hierarchical process in the Chinese system where one president consolidates his power over the party structure, prepares his successors and then slowly fades away, retention of power by Hu may be a foregone conclusion.

Jiang Zemin had gradually made way to the present President in 2005 and Hu is likely to continue in the years ahead marking the entry of the 4th Generation of political leadership in the country. Mao Dze Dong, the 2nd by Deng, the third by Zhao Ziang and Jiang Zemin, led the 1st Generation while the 4th is represented by the Hu-Wen combine.

After the days of the purges, Great Cultural Revolution and Gang of Four, Chinese leadership transformation is relatively smooth today. On the other hand, the present leaders face massive challenges not so much of economic development but of growing development divide, which is contributing to a social break up. Will this grow into a political divide only time will tell? As of now, it appears that there are unlikely to be any major shifts either in political ideology or in leadership during the 17th CPC.

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

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