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The other superpower changes leaders


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As the world watches, one of the world’s largest economies gathers to choose a new leader – a global power with an ever-expanding reach touching all continents, commentators can but speculate on the effects of this leadership change. As the global economy recovers from recession, reels from instability in the Middle East and prepares for a new end-game in Afghanistan, the implication of what happens in the country with which, according to President Zardari Pakistan shares a friendship “without parallel”, have far reaching ramifications across Pakistan. Indeed, the leadership change occurring in China this week could have reverberations across the world, yet has approached unnoticed, like tanks bearing down upon Tiananmen Square. On Thursday, the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party began in Beijing, with elections scheduled during the meeting for seven of the nine positions on the Politburo Standing Committee that essentially governs the country.

Overseeing the largest security apparatus in the world, monitoring everything from the websites their citizens visit to the political activities of the billion strong population, as well as the world’s second largest economy, the implications of changes to the Politburo cannot be exaggerated. Unfortunately, the implications of these new faces in the corridors of power are also hard to predict. Shrouded in secrecy, it’s still not certain who will be joining the elite club that runs the country – rumors and sources indicate 10 candidates are running to be “elected” to the seven positions, though that final list of candidates is far from confirmed.

While many of the names may remain a secret up until they are chosen to run the country, the top two names are all but certain – Vice President Xi Jingping will replace outgoing President Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang, currently the First Vice Premier will replace outgoing Premier Wen Jiabo. One reason so little is known about the process is because of how carefully the entire process has been managed and coordinated – what little news coverage the leadership transition has received has been quick to point out how “carefully scripted” the process is. Indeed, little is known about when during the week-long Congress, elections for the new positions will be held.

With such a large-scale change in leadership, the Communist Party, Chinese government and state media have been keen for the change in leaders to come across as seamless as possible, emphasising stability and continuity. Indeed, now is not the time to sow the seeds of doubt, as an article in The New Statesman lays bare the tensions pulling at the fabric of Chinese society, including “the most extreme wealth gap in Asia, rampant institutional corruption, extensive state censorship and appalling state contempt for the human rights of its citizens” .

Unfortunately for the party, these tensions have exposed themselves throughout the year. In addition to the high-profile expulsion of Politburo member Bo Xilai on charges of corruption, long considered a contender for one of the seven vacant positions, there have been murmurings of discontent on other fronts as well. The long simmering – and occasionally flaring – anger of Tibetans has sparked in the midst of this transition, with Time magazine reporting seven Tibetans self-immolating in seven days at the end of October, a sign that citizens of the restive plateau continue to call for change. Within the party edifice too, cracks have begun to appear, with reports of a rift developing between the sons and daughters of former senior Communist Party officials, the “Red Princelings” and technocrats in the party. As the son of a former senior official, replacing a self-made technocrat, China’s incoming leader will have a fine line to tread, with reports that “arguments over the suitability of Xilai between party elders almost came into blows” in August. These tensions have clearly not abated, as the third day of the Congress begins in Beijing with nothing announced yet regarding the election or candidates.

As the world’s attention remains firmly fixed on the media circus that is the American electoral system, across the Pacific winds of change are blowing across the Middle Kingdom as well. While it’s unlikely that the new leadership in China will differ much from the current leadership, as decisions within the Politburo are usually made by consensus and candidates chosen through careful grooming and vetting, the sheer scale of the new Chinese leadership is cause for concern. If nothing else, as China continues to project its power abroad through pragmatism and mega-investments, a la Gwadar, the timing of China and the United States’ leadership change raises a stark contrast. Despite the growing might of China and the growing disenchantment with the United States across the world, China’s greatest obstacle to being loved – and the United States’ greatest inspiration – remains that in one superpower leaders are elected, while in the other they are selected.


Faris Islam studied Political Science and History at Tufts University. He is based in Karachi, where he works in the development sector.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (14) Closed

raika45 Nov 10, 2012 01:29pm
Your statement towards that states " China's greatest obstacle to be loved" maybe your Pakistani dream.After all your friendship with this country is nothing but praise.Ask the nations bordering the South China sea who follow international maritime laws regarding their territory, which China now claims as it's own.International laws to them are not their concern.This nation is a thug threatening countries like Vietnam,Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei knowing they have no physical reply to China's might.You people may hate America, to us we look forward to it to aid us.
Isa Nov 11, 2012 12:24am
It is a good news to hear that we are in close relationship with the worlds superpower in waiting.With the development of an all weather friendship with china and Russia, our enimies like India, US and Israle will think twice before any misadventure
Husain Bulman Nov 10, 2012 03:05pm
Not ten , according to the latest OECD report , China will overtake the US as the largest economy in less than 5 years.......
Agha Ata (USA) Nov 10, 2012 02:59pm
Shame for all Pakistani governments. China is one year younger than Pakistan. And look where they are, and then, look at the older brother WE. (Stand in front of a mirror and slap your face)
Khuram Chandio Nov 12, 2012 07:27am
The superpower China is also gearing for a leadership change. It is reported that at their party convention which begins on November 8, 2012, both incumbent Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are to make way for Xi Jinping and Li Reqiang, respectively. Although the international media
Sandy Nov 12, 2012 06:53am
Russia was, is and always will be a partner of India. 30 billion dollar agreement will be signed only for the Fifth generation Stealth fighter, many projects are already in the process of completion, and many are in the line.
Free Tibet Nov 12, 2012 03:03am
China is just a disaster waiting to happen. Like the Soviet Union. It's hardly a superpower. It has one of the lowest per-capita GDP in the world.
Shoaib Mirza Nov 12, 2012 02:04am
And you continue to dream of a war to settle scores, I presume? While you are at that, you also seem to disregard that peace could be an alternative?
javid Nov 11, 2012 02:16am
China is a miracle country and a future super power. The system of election/ selection works well for this country. It is a combination of consensus and wisdom. This is what it should be. Perhaps we in Pakistan should learn a lesson and adopt this system. We will certainly prosper more rapidly. In contrast we have seen a flawed and showbiz electoral system of elections of candidates and selection of presidents. Western democratic system is flawed and promotes corruption and mediocre leadership.
Sue Sturgess Nov 11, 2012 01:51am
You can gurantee that the Chinese didn't waste $US6b on fanfare campagining
Murtaza Nov 10, 2012 11:34pm
The writer never really has been to China and know nothing of what the people think. The government invested 350M dollars in Sichuan province alone, how the government responded to Sichuan earthquake, I have seen with my own eyes. Secondly US is not a democracy you just had to follow the primaries to ascertain that. The two candidates on the ballot are also vetted and groomed not by the electoral but by the globalist. Study a bit more about geopolitics, history and finance before churning out these articles. Lastly in Islam there is no concept of democracy, so either you are with islam or against and also there is no such term as moderate in islam.
Sandy Nov 10, 2012 07:14pm
Society changes based on their politics. Democracy have the past record and still is the best form of governance that influence change in society with the freedom of speech and expression, and that implies to Pakistan also. But can't say the same thing with China, only time can tell.
Gautham Nov 10, 2012 03:15pm
The process of people exercising their free-will and the resulting outcomes are always romanticized than a bland, deterministic outcome of an autocratic exercise.
M. Asghar Nov 10, 2012 01:34pm
The endgame is clear: in less than 10 years, China will be biggest economy on the earth with the corresponding geopolitical status. The writer of this writeup, hooked up with his Western windmill, should know that the Chinese society is changing too, and this will lead to the desired social and political changes.