Comeback king

Who is in and out at China’s ‘Two Meetings’?


He’s back: Wang Qishan

Once a year, usually in March, China holds its Two Meetings, where thousands of representatives from around the country descend on Beijing to consult and vote on new laws and decide who should fill the top political jobs.

It all sounds highly democratic – indeed the two chambers, the lawmaking National People’s Congress (NPC) and China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory group, vaguely mirror the dual legislative chamber concept of the US and the UK.

But of course these are not true chambers of debate and for all the attention the Chinese media gives them, they routinely produce very little substantive news.

The Two Meetings this year, however, could be a little different. Scheduled to begin on March 3, the gatherings will take place four months after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, where key changes were made to the Politburo and the seven-man governing Standing Committee.

These changes now have to be worked into the structures of the state and the government. General Secretary Xi will, of course, be reselected as the Chinese president and Li Keqiang is expected to stay as head of the State Council – China’s cabinet.

Li Zhanshu, a new member on the Standing Committee, will likely be made head of the NPC. Meanwhile Wang Yang, another of the top seven, is expected to become head of the CPPCC.

Yet the person to watch is 69 year-old Wang Qishan who stood down from the Standing Committee in October because of an unwritten rule that anyone over the age of 67 cannot be given a new term.

As readers of WiC will know Wang is a staunch ally of Xi and previously helped spearhead the president’s anti-corruption campaign.

Back in October it was rumoured that Xi might break with the Party’s unwritten rules and allow Wang retain his Standing Committe place.

But Wang stepped down – at least formally – though in December the South China Morning Post reported that he was still attending Standing Committee meetings as a non-voting member. In November he also attended a banquet Xi held for US President Donald Trump during his state visit.

So for China watchers it wasn’t a big surprise when Hunan province broke with tradition and named the former anti-graft tsar as one of its NPC delegates late last month.

This announcement paves the way for Xi to bring Wang back into his government, possibly as state vice president – a rather ill-defined role that can be reshaped to give Wang whatever power the head of state wants to bestow.

Some say he might be put in charge of managing Beijing’sincreasingly tricky relations with Washington. Last year the Financial Times quoted one senior Chinese official as saying “everything Wang Qishan touches turns to gold”.

But while Wang – who is married to the daughter of a former vice-premier – might be back in, other members of the so called “second generation red” appear to be out.

Mao Zedong’s grandson, Mao Xinyu, a major general in the army, has been left off the CPPCC list for the first time since 2008. Li Xiaolin, the daughter of Li Peng, a former premier, has also been left out – in the past she was criticised for wearing extravagant clothes to the Two Meetings.

Another eyecatching omission was Song Zuying, who is former leader Jiang Zemin’s favourite singer. Song holds the rank of rear admiral in the Chinese navy and was a NPC delegate before she became a CPPCC delegate in 2014.

Meanwhile Xi Jinping himself has been nominated to attend the annual Two Meetings as an NPC representative for Inner Mongolia – a move that suggests to WiC that it might become the focus of more investment in the coming years.

Why so? At the earlier Party Congress Xi represented Guizhou and it is notable that during his first term in office that province – long one of China’s poorest – was a major recipient of infrastructure spending and policy favours. For instance, its biggest city Guiyang now houses the majority of China’s cloud computing centres thanks to Beijing designating it a national Big Data capital. Interestingly, Apple has this week said its second Chinese data centre will be located in Inner Mongolia’s Ulanqab City (for more see “Week in 60”).

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