Fresh faces reveal the influence of powerbrokers from the past

IT IS a measure of the scale of China’s challenges and aspirations that Hu Jintao is widely seen as a disappointment despite handing over an economy that is four times larger in US dollar terms than the one he took charge of exactly one decade ago.

Members of the Chinese elite talk derisively of ”the 10 lost years” in which Hu led a ”maintenance committee” that deferred tough decisions and thorny problems to his successor, Xi Jinping.

Hu himself underscored one legacy challenge that looms larger than the rest: corruption.

”If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” said Hu, in his farewell speech last week.

Hu urged a ”merciless” anti-corruption drive but has conspicuously failed to take steps to build any of the institutional tools to achieve it.

It is an older coterie of retired leaders, however, led by Hu’s wily 86-year-old adversary and predecessor, Jiang Zemin, that has now made the Chinese amalgam of wealth and power almost impossible to disentangle. Jiang and other elders who hoisted Xi Jinping to power have manoeuvred to stack his inner cabinet with people whom they judge will not disturb the state-owned and private business empires that are controlled by their proteges and children.

The underlying political logic is most apparent when you examine the names that were missing from yesterday’s leadership roll-call.

The most notable absence is Li Yuanchao, a bold and capable leader known to some in the elite as ”Mr Clean”, who was expected to be a certain starter until being blocked by the coterie of Party elders.

The second is Wang Yang, who had launched a major anti-corruption drive in Guangdong province. He is the only rising star to have openly pinned his colours to the mast of political reform in China.

Two princeling leaders who have attacked mafia-state collusion from the political left have also had their aspirations derailed.

One is Liu Yuan, the princeling general who single-handedly moved to bring down one of the most notorious generals in the People’s Liberation Army. And the most spectacular casualty is Bo Xilai, the former mafia-slaying boss of Chongqing city, who now awaits a criminal trial because his remedies were judged to be more disturbing than the problem.

Chen Ziming, a well-connected political analyst in Beijing, says the political reforms necessary to make officials accountable have not advanced since the 1980s.

”Intellectuals talk about the mafia-isation of government,” says Chen. ”The nation has the character of a mafia organisation in which the gang shares ‘interests’ according to rank.”

He gives credit to Hu Jintao for stepping down as head of the military and thereby sacrificing his own continuing influence in order to encourage other elders to do the same. ”This is Hu’s greatest achievement – after doing nothing for 10 years.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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