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Chinese leadership meeting a setting for social policy, power moves

Chinese leadership meeting a setting for social policy, power moves

Officially, China's leaders will focus on helping the poor when they open a policymaking meeting Sunday. But what the political elite will look at is how President Hu Jintao uses the conclave to further consolidate his power.
The Communist Party says its four-day Central Committee plenum will work on "building a harmonious society" _ its term for efforts to spread prosperity and ease tensions over the growing gap between a new, small middle class and the poor majority.
The annual gathering is often a time for high-level personnel changes. This year's meeting was heralded by a political earthquake: the ousting of Shanghai's party boss for corruption two weeks ago, in what was widely interpreted as a move by Hu to eliminate potential rivals and rein in strong-willed regional leaders.
"Everyone is going to be busy looking at the leadership changes," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China specialist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
Part political theater, part bargaining session, the closed-door Central Committee meetings are a key forum for the leadership to rally senior party officials.
The coming meeting has added importance because it lays the groundwork for a more crucial gathering a year from now _ a once-every-five-years congress that is expected to re-anoint Hu as party secretary and mark his full emergence as China's unrivaled leader.
Hu, who came to power in 2002, has engineered a shift in policy, making a priority of helping the millions who have missed out on China's boom. Over the past two years, Beijing has raised spending on health care, schools and other services in the countryside, home to about 800 million people.
This year's plenum is expected to promise more such steps.
China watchers say the purging of Shanghai party Secretary Chen Liangyu on Sept. 25 serves as a warning not to frustrate Hu and his policy agenda.
Though Chen was fired after being implicated in the misuse of government pension funds to finance real estate deals, he had already been in political danger.
For the past two years, he and other regional leaders had been accused of defying Beijing's efforts to cool off dangerously fast economic growth, and to shift development to China's countryside and impoverished west.
Chen reportedly angered Beijing by clashing with Hu's premier, Wen Jiabao, over orders to throttle back a construction frenzy in Shanghai, the country's ambitious business capital.
Also, Chen had owed his position to Hu's predecessor, former President Jiang Zemin _ and Hu has been steadily eroding Jiang's influence since succeeding him as party leader in 2002.
In the run-up to next year's party congress, Hu is expected to force more Jiang allies to step aside, and to promote his own supporters into senior positions.
"The sacking of Chen Liangyu shows that Hu Jintao is now in very good control of the situation and that the Jiang Zemin era has ended," said Joseph Cheng, chairman of the City University of Hong Kong's Contemporary China Research Center.
"Hu Jintao will be in a very strong position to shape the leadership lineup at all levels," Cheng said.
But he said he doesn't expect Hu to force too many high-level changes at the coming meeting, for fear of triggering divisive factionalism.
"To sack too many people would be destabilizing," he said.
Instead, Cheng said, the famously methodical Hu has promoted about three dozen senior commanders in the paramilitary People's Armed Police in recent months throughout China, increasing his influence over local law enforcement.
"Hu Jintao will be in a better position if he tries to clean up corruption rackets in various cities," Cheng said.
On social issues, Chinese leaders have a chance to use the plenum to explain their vague promise of a "harmonious society" and how they will make the hard decisions to achieve it, said the Paris-based researcher Cabestan.
"It means the rich provinces are going to help the poor provinces in a more systematic way," he said. "It means the rich are going to be taxed more."


Updated : 2021-04-12 09:44 GMT+08:00