The other election: China prepares for a new Congress and president
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It may be coincidental, but the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which chooses the country's leadership for the next 10 years, opens two days after America's elections.
The Chinese process seems horribly complex. The 80 million members of the party choose those who sit on its Central Committee, who then select the 25-member Politburo which in principle runs the country.
In fact the outcome of the process in China is virtually predetermined before the Congress even begins. The way it is done, however, is a ghastly mix of balancing of the different elements of power within Chinese society. Players to be taken into account include representatives of the party, the military, big business and China's regions. It has 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four central government-controlled municipalities and two special administrative regions to govern a population of 1.3 billion.
Divisions inside China include, as well, an urban-rural split, north-south competition, differences of interest between coastal China and the interior, and political power centered on particular individuals. A good example of the latter is the recent raging controversy about the fate of Bo Xilai, a major political personality. His wife was found guilty of murdering a British businessman; his son was reported to have a fondness for luxury cars while a student at Harvard.
The dangerous words "reform" and "corruption" have also been under discussion as the Congress approaches. There has even been talk about China moving toward a Singapore model of "flexible authoritarianism." The designated successor to President Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, is said to be looking at reform, including opening up the government to greater representation.
In the meantime, the state of the Chinese economy remains the key element in the national picture, the basic source of legitimacy for continued Communist rule. The government announced gross domestic product growth of 7.4 percent for the third quarter of 2012, the lowest in three years.
Stern threats by the U.S. presidential candidates of intended action against China for currency manipulation are not entirely justified by the facts: China's currency, the renminbi, gained 8.5 percent during Barack Obama's presidency. Given the interdependence of the two economies, any post-election U.S. economic actions against China could have unanticipated negative effects on the American economy.
This situation will need to be revisited after both countries have been through their transitions and a new status quo exists.
First Published October 27, 2012 12:00 am