Colourless China shift hides leeway

Beijing, Nov. 15: China's ruling Communist Party unveiled today an older, conservative leadership line-up that at first glance appears unlikely to take the drastic action needed to tackle pressing issues like social unrest, environmental degradation and corruption.

New party chief Xi Jinping, premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang and vice-premier in charge of economic affairs Wang Qishan, all named as expected to the elite decision-making politburo standing committee, are considered cautious reformers. The other four members have the reputation of being conservative. (See chart)

The transition belied any hopes that Xi would usher in a leadership that would take bold steps to deal with slowing growth in the world's second-biggest economy, or begin to ease the Communist Party's iron grip.

But an unspoken age limit for party leaders means that several of them will retire at the next party congress, in 2017, at which point Xi might have an opening to get other allies appointed.

Xi will have to spend his first years building a power base, limiting the opportunity to make major policy moves. He might, however, support a further opening of the economy in his first five-year term, some political insiders said. If he or other leaders want to experiment with the political system, they would do that in his second term, even though true economic changes need political transformations as well.

But Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American businessman who wrote an authorised biography of former President Jiang Zemin, predicted Xi would surprise those expecting him to adhere to the status quo.

The pressures on China to create a more sustainable economic system ' one that relies less on investment in large projects and exports and more on domestic consumption and private business ' will compel him to act soon. "The risks of not reforming are now higher than the risks of reforming," Kuhn said.

Some remained sceptical on the political front. "We're not going to see any political reform because too many people in the system see it as a slippery slope to extinction," said David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University. "They see it entirely through the prism of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions in Central Asia, so they're not going to go there."

Xi is facing a growing chorus of calls from Chinese elites to support greater openness in the economic and political systems, which critics say have stagnated in the last decade under the departing party chief, Hu Jintao, despite the country's emergence as the world's second-largest economy.

Hu, 69, also turned over the post of civilian chairman of the military to Xi, which made this transition the first time since the promotion of the ill-fated Hua Guofeng in 1976 that a Chinese leader had taken office as head of the party and the military at the same time. That gives Xi a stronger base.

Hu's abdication of the military chairmanship sets an important institutional precedent for future successions and may put his legacy in a more favourable light. In Chinese politics, retired leaders try to maximise their influence well into old age.

Jiang held on to the military post for two years after giving up his party title in 2002, which led to heightened friction within the party. In recent months, he has worked to get his prot�g�s installed on the standing committee.

The new standing committee has allies of Jiang in five of seven seats, reflecting his considerable power despite being hit by serious illness. The committee was trimmed to seven members from nine. One reason for that change is that some party leaders, including Xi, believe that an overrepresentation of interests on the committee has led to gridlock in decision making.

The smaller committee has also resulted in a downgrading of the party post that controls the security apparatus, which some officials asserted had grown too powerful.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

It's getting increasingly tough for bowlers: Ajmal

It's getting increasingly tough for bowlers: Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

Moores set for England recall

Moores set for England recall

The 51-year-old will succeed Andy Flower, who stepped down after five years in charge following the 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia in January. More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »