Who’s replacing Hu?

How does the old saying go? The more things change the more they stay the same? Last month, the People’s Republic of China learned who would replace Hu Jintao as president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although not much is known about Hu’s successor, the internal squabbling within the CCP on the debate over political reform have many believing that reform itself isn’t coming and that the Chinese Politburo will continue to be one that is hard-line conservative.

Xi Jinping, a much unheralded “princeling” of the Communist Party ranks, was seemingly chosen out of obscurity to become China’s newest vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, a known position for future leaders of the CCP.

All that’s really known about Xi is his historical lineage within the CCP (his father was a founding member that was ultimately purged during the Cultural Revolution) and his time as party secretary in the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang and in Shanghai. Beyond that, his current political leanings towards reform and open markets has been kept under wraps for the time being.

The secrecy surrounding Xi Jinping will certainly do little to ease the minds of concerned Western governments, who are hoping for the development of pro-democratic and free enterprise reforms. Despite his conservative predisposition, Xi was a long-time supporter of free enterprise reforms in the areas he governed prior to being brought into the Politburo. Most, however, don’t believe these views will follow to the chairmanship of the CCP when Hu steps down between 2012 and 2013.

While he has a past of being sympathetic to the causes for reform, it’s highly unlikely that Xi will carry this sentiment as the leader of the Politburo.
For all the internal dissent within the party, it wants to keep things steady-as-she-goes. Since China has used foreign investments to keep consistent GDP growth rates, even during the 2008 recession, it’s been able to forego worldwide hits to consumption and keep their economy steady, even with party instability.

The Politburo has to know that these growth rate trends aren’t sustainable and that the only way to develop sustainable growth in China is to develop internally and not be dependent on foreign capital.

The government has taken baby steps towards this solution with a provision in its new five-year plan focusing on increasing labourer and wage-earners share of the national economy, thus putting more money in the hands of the people to consume.

The problem is keeping the party stable enough to keep foreign investors happy and until this method of developing a consumer-based economy in China takes off. This is Xi’s purpose, to make the power transition as seamless as possible.

At a time when the CCP Secretariat could have chosen a pro-reform successor, it took the status quo and brought in someone from the bloodline of the old vanguard. It makes sense from their perspective. Why bring in someone who will pander to the masses and allow them the opportunity for a say in who runs the government? So, for all the hoopla around the announcement of Hu Jintao’s successor, not much will ultimately change. The CCP’s grip on the media and the economy will still be iron-clad.

The Chinese people won’t gain any ground on the debate of democratic reforms. Some minor changes to the economy will be made, but we’ll see how long these conditions last if they don’t prove to be successful relatively soon.