A Leaner, Meaner Chinese State

It is now official.  Xi Jinping, anointed the leader of the Chinese Communist Party in November, is today the President of the People’s Republic of China.  The vote by the National People’s Congress to make Xi President of the PRC was not a surprise, but the overwhelmingly choreographed National People’s Congress gathering did finalize two decisions that are important – the merging of the ministries devoted to railways and family planning into other ministries.

Railway officials have a long history of obscene and widespread corruption and the CCP had recognized that the continued existence of a separate railway ministry fueled public discontent.  Merging railways into another ministry allows the CCP to shade the problem from the public and address it in the way (and time frame) seen most appropriate by state leaders. 

Family planning is another source of intense public dissatisfaction.  Opposition to the One-Child Policy is ever-growing in the country, especially in light of official abuse against those who are in violation.  Further complicating the issue of family planning is China’s rapidly aging population.  As with other countries in East Asia, China will soon suffer as a smaller youth population will be required to support a larger elderly population.  Folding family planning into another ministry may serve as indication that the One-Child Policy is under review, or at the very least reveal that enforcement of the law may no longer be as rigorous as in past years.

The merging of these two ministries also provides indications into how Xi Jinping will lead China for the next decade.  Since he rose to power in November, observers around the world have been trying to interpret his actions for evidence as to how he will lead.  Xi’s strong ties to the military, his simple public persona, and his apparent support for greater economic liberalization painted a complicated picture of a leader with both conservative and reformist tendencies. 

The National People’s Congress shows that Xi Jinping is intent on furthering liberalization (even at the expense of the country’s behemoth state owned enterprises), will lead by relying on nationalist, not communist, ideology, and finally will change the appearance of corruption within the CCP (not truly changing actions).  What does that all mean?  It means that Xi Jinping will never possess the unified party support his predecessors enjoyed.  Xi Jinping is a leader who correctly identifies that the CCP has a public perception problem and he will do whatever he can to improve the Party’s reputation, but he does not have, nor likely ever will have, the power to truly challenge corruption.  Thus, President Xi will be a reformer – a reformer of the margins.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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