With Vice President Xi Jinpingâ€™s recent appointment as Vice-Chairman of Chinaâ€™s powerful Central Military Commission, Hu Jintaoâ€™s successor is all but set. Xi now holds all three apprenticeship positions â€“ member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Vice President of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China, and Vice-Chairman of the CMC – necessary for the transition to Chinaâ€™s paramount leader. As Huâ€™s protÃ©gÃ©, and apparently favored successor, Li Keqiang is lined up to succeed Wen Jiabao as Premier, the fifth-generation is poised to take the reins of political leadership.
While the carefully orchestrated transition process leaves little doubt over the desire for political continuity and harmony, factional differences â€“ between the â€˜princelingsâ€™ andÂ tuanpaiÂ – within the CCP could come to the fore in Xi and Liâ€™s approaches to economic management.
Xi Jinping is considered a member of the â€˜princelingâ€™ faction, so-named because its members have ties to some of Chinaâ€™s most politically powerful families (Xi is the son of a former Politburo member). This elitist group is perceived to represent the interests of entrepreneurs and the middle class, and the needs of coastal business communities. Xi was credited with promoting pro-market reforms and attracting Taiwanese investment into the private sector during his tenure in Fujian province. Unsurprisingly, his priorities includeÂ increasing economic efficiency, maintaining GDP growth, and deepening Chinaâ€™s integration into the world economy.
Li Keqiang, on the other hand, is aÂ tuanpai, named after the Chinese Communist Youth League through which its members advanced their careers. These populist leaders, usually of humble origins, are seen as more concerned with protecting the interests of the inland region and addressing the plight of vulnerable social groups. Like Hu, Li stresses the importance of building a â€œharmonious societyâ€ and is a staunch advocate of helping the unemployed, providingÂ low-income housing, andÂ accelerating healthcare reforms.
How then will this princeling-tuanpaiÂ pair steer Chinaâ€™s economic development? How the two factions will affect such a transformation and at what pace could be part of the fifth generationâ€™s growing pains.
Nevertheless, the general consensus among China-scholars is that the new leaders will compromise and adopt a moderate socio-economic approach, incorporating Huâ€™s social-welfare economic policies with some of Jiang Zeminâ€™s growth-centered policies. This policy orientation is illustrated in Xiâ€™s recentÂ speech at the 2nd World Investment Forum, where he appealed to Chinese enterprises to â€œgo globalâ€ and encouraged more foreign investment in high-end manufacturing industries, as well as labor-intensive industries in the central and western regions of China. Furthermore,Â Chinaâ€™s new 12th Five-Year PlanÂ aims for the twin goals of maintaining relatively fast economic growth and enhancing balanced regional development. Set for the 2011-2015 period, the plan will span the critical upcoming leadership transition and will likely serve as the guidelines for the fifth generation leadership, despite their factional differences.