The Chinese communist party's new leadership

The Chinese communist party’s new leadership was unveiled November 15 in Beijing.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced its new ‘Fifth Generation’ leadership on November 15, with Xi Jinping appointed as Party Secretary and head of the CCP Central Military Commission in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition. Members of the new seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo headed by Xi are older, conservative, and associated with harsh policies in Tibet. The new top leadership, which excluded two senior Party members known for their emphasis on political reform, may seek to assert their authority on Tibet at an early stage following protests by thousands of Tibetans and an escalation in self-immolations during the week-long Party Congress, which ended on Thursday (November 15) in Beijing.

On the eve of the meeting and during the same week, 11 Tibetans set fire to themselves in different areas of Tibet, bringing the confirmed cases of self-immolations in Tibet to 74 since February 2009. The spike in cases of self-immolation appears to be linked to the Party Congress, as Tibetans seek to send a message to a new leadership.

There are no indicators of future policy change on Tibet or other ‘ethnic minority’ issues given the new configuration of the 25-member Politburo Central Committee, which ranks below the seven-member Standing Committee. Even so, the careers of two prominent Politburo members, Hu Chunhua, who speaks Tibetan, and Guo Jinlong, a former Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), were built in Tibet. Liu Yandong, another Politburo member, had a prominent and direct role in dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s envoys during her tenure at the United Front Work Department (UFWD).

There has been a decrease in the number of Tibetans in the Central Committees of the Party, which are lower-ranking than the Politburo. For the past few Party Congresses, there were at least two Tibetans in the 200-plus members of the Committee, but this time only one is included, Pema Thinley, the current head of the TAR government. There are, however, four Tibetans as Alternate Members, which is the largest number to date.

Zhu Weiqun, the Executive Deputy Minister of the United Front Work Department who handled day to day affairs on Tibet and was known for his hardline position against the Dalai Lama and Tibetan culture, did not attain a place in the Central Committee although he was a member of the 17th CPC committee.

The new line-up of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee – the Politburo, which runs China – is as follows:

Xi Jinping was named General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee at the first plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee. It is likely that he will take over the Presidency in March, 2013. Importantly, Xi Jinping was also appointed chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission.

The other six members of the Standing Committee are: Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli. (Xinhua – November 15, 2012).

The 25 members of the Politburo Central Committee are: Xi Jinping, Ma Kai, Wang Qishan, Wang Huning, Liu Yunshan, Liu Yandong (female), Liu Qibao, Xu Qiliang, Sun Chunlan (female), Sun Zhengcai, Li Keqiang, Li Jianguo, Li Yuanchao, Wang Yang, Zhang Chunxian, Zhang Gaoli, Zhang Dejiang, Fan Changlong, Meng Jianzhu, Zhao Leji, Hu Chunhua, Yu Zhengsheng, Li Zhanshu, Guo Jinlong and Han Zheng.

The new Politburo

Two prominent Party members known for their emphasis on political reform, Wang Yang and Liu Yuanchao (both allies of Hu Jintao), were on a final list of ten, but did not make it into the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Wang Yang, Party Secretary of Guangdong province, is known for his skilful handling of mass protests, such as Wukan, where he instituted municipal elections after locals protested against Party corruption. Liu Yuanchao is known for his softer line on dissent, as well as a measure of sympathy for political prisoners.

Liu Yandong, who headed the central United Front Work Department from 2002 to 2007 and, as such was involved from late 2002 in the official dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, also did not make the cut into the Standing Committee. But Liu Yandong, the most senior female politician in China, together with Wang Yang and Liu Yuanchao, joined the 25-member Politburo.

At the ceremony to introduce the Party leaders, Xi Jinping’s speech was notably free of Party jargon and ideology, with no reference to Maoism or Marxism (full text at: BBC, China’s new party chief Xi Jinping’s speech). Although Xi did not mention ‘stability’ once in the speech – in Chinese political language, this is a coded reference to prevention of social disorder – the CCP is unlikely to step back from its ‘stability maintenance’ (‘weiwen’) approach across the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as in Tibet, at least in the near-term. This policy has involved a dramatic and costly expansion of the powers of China’s military and policing personnel. It is increasingly regarded by analysts and progressive Chinese as a flawed tool of CCP control that is incapable of dealing with the wrenching social change across the PRC. Tsinghua University sociologist Sun Liping, for instance, argues that the ‘stability maintenance’ regime has “hijacked the reform agenda and thrown China’s political, social and economic life into a state of “abnormality.”

One of the most significant decisions in the configuration of leaders at the Party Congress is that Zhou Yongkang, Secretary of the powerful Politics and Law Committee (PLC) overseeing all legal enforcement authorities, including the police and judiciary, was not assigned a seat on the Standing Committee. Zhou Yongkang, who is retiring, was previously the Party chief of Sichuan province (1999-2002), presiding over the sentencing to death of a well-known and respected Tibetan lama, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche and gaining a reputation for his hardline approach against dissent and Tibetan culture. Meng Jianzhu, Deputy Secretary of the Committee, is in the Politburo Central Committee following the Party Congress; there are indications that he will be the new domestic security tsar replacing Zhou Yongkang.

A key question facing the new leadership following the Party Congress is whether and how they will rein in the security apparatus, seen as a prerequisite to calming the crisis in Tibet. Prior to the Party Congress, the Dui Hua Foundation had suggested: “If the seat held by the PLC chief is eliminated, it could signal a de-emphasis on the current policy of ‘stability above all else,’ which has been used to trample dissent.” It could also signal an intention by Xi Jinping to manage stability policies more directly. Professor Guo Xuezhi, author of ‘China’s Security State’, said: “Xi and the Standing Committee will want to make weiwen decisions themselves instead of having one person [like Zhou] control it. The new leaders’ No 1 criterion for success will still be maintaining stability.” (Time Magazine, October 22, 2012).

In Tibet, the intensification of state control and emphasis on political ‘stability’ has taken the form of a violent crackdown since protests swept across the plateau in 2008. Since the self-immolations began in Tibet in 2009, the authorities have gone so far as to characterise their approach in Tibetan areas as a “war against secessionist sabotage”. In the buildup to the Party Congress, Jia Qinglin, a member of the outgoing Standing Committee and important figure in Tibet policy, outlined this approach when he said that: “The country is in a key period of fighting against the Dalai Lama group.”

In addition to the security crackdown, propaganda has been critical to the rollout of the Party’s policies on Tibet since March, 2008. It is significant and of concern that the head of propaganda Liu Yunshan, who takes over from the retiring Li Changchun, has attained a place on the seven-member Standing Committee. This is likely to indicate a continued emphasis on an aggressive propaganda campaign against Tibetans, which has widened the gulf between ordinary Chinese and Tibetans. For example, the CCP has sought to present the unprecedented, and overwhelmingly peaceful, protests across Tibet since March, 2008, as one “violent riot” characterized by events of March 14 in Lhasa in which there was loss of Chinese and Tibetan lives. The Chinese authorities have also engaged in a comprehensive cover-up of the torture, disappearances and killings that have taken place across Tibet and they persist in a virulent propaganda offensive against the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. There is also every evidence that Liu Yunshan has followed Li Changchun’s hardline approach on control of the internet and media.

Indian analyst Jayadeva Renade has observed that all of the members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee are individuals who joined the CCP during the Cultural Revolution. He wrote: “Most will have witnessed their close relatives and parents suffer during those ten tumultuous years and many would have personally suffered deprivation. They will have a tough mind set which has been moulded by adversity. The ‘princelings’ among them will additionally have a strong sense of entitlement or privilege. This ‘Cultural Revolution Generation’ of leaders can be expected to strive to make China a great power which has regained its self-perceived position in the world.” (‘China’s 18th Party Congress,’ October 26, 2012).

In the leadership succession over the past week, 60 percent of the 370-member Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party – the engine of policy formulation in China – has been replaced; 14 out of 25 members of the Politburo (the ‘Political Bureau’ within the Central Committee) have been replaced; and in the Politburo’s Standing Committee, the highest sanctum of power in the PRC, only two of the previous nine members remain, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

Leading China analyst Willy Wo Lap Lam observed that the process of selection of Party leaders had been a “setback for intra-party democracy, because a lot of the retired leaders, especially Jiang Zemin, have been clearly involved in the selection of top personnel” as delegates rarely vote against leadership guidelines. (Radio Free Asia, The Changing of the Guard)

Yang Ming, a Mongolian, attained the most visible position secured by a minority at this Party Congress – member of the Secretariat of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Yang Ming is the Minister in the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and a Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work Department.

Ling Jihua, the current head of China’s Central United Front Work Department (UFWD) that is the key organization managing Tibetan affairs, has a place in the Central Committee, as was the case with his predecessors. But it is notable that Zhu Weiqun, who has been associated with Tibet policy as a UFWD official directly engaged in the formal dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, does not find a place in the Committee although he was a member of the 17th CPC committee. This is more surprising when we consider that the former head of the UFWD, Du Qinglin, is in the new Central Committee. Du is older than Zhu Weiqun (born in November 1946 while Zhu was born in 1947), indicating that age may not have been a consideration.

In recent months, Zhu Weiqun has made a number of recommendations on policy that would undermine the status of Tibetans and their culture still further, in addition to his earlier comments rejecting a moderate and reasonable proposal presented by the Dalai Lama’s representatives on future engagement. Referring to “serious problems in the Party’s ethnic and religious work,” Zhu has recommended removing ethnic status from identification cards; a freeze on new areas being recognised as ‘autonomous,’ and universal adoption of Mandarin and ethnically mixed schooling. The latter implies a downgrading of Tibetan language, an issue that is passionately-felt by Tibetans.

On February 2, 2010, two days after the Dalai Lama’s representatives Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen had departed China following the last round of dialogue, Zhu Weiqun held a press conference in which he blamed the Tibetan side for any lack of progress. He rejected the Tibetan side’s ‘Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People,’ and again framed the talks as being only about the personal future of the Dalai Lama, rejecting the notion that the Dalai Lama represented the interests of the Tibetan people.

It is not yet known who will oversee organizations like the China Tibetan Culture Protection and Development Association, which Beijing has set up for their ‘soft power’ outreach on Tibet. Zhu Weiqun has been this organization’s Vice President and Secretary General since 2004. In the coming months there is also likely to be news of the appointment of members of the Central Tibet Work Coordination Group (also known as the Leading Group on Tibet) that may provide further insights into how the Party perceives the Tibet issue.

Tibetans appointed

While several Chinese officials have built their careers through positions in Tibet, or in roles heavily involved in creating policy in Tibetan areas, Tibetan Party cadres continue to be limited in the positions they are appointed to, underlining the structural barriers Tibetans face in the Chinese political system and belying a general distrust of “ethnic” cadres among China’s political elite.

While the upper strata of the Party remains closed to Tibetans, several were appointed to Chinese Communist Party committees during the 18th Party Congress. The most senior position, a seat among the 205 members of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was awarded to Pema Thinley (also referred to as Padma Choling), who concurrently serves as the governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Four other Tibetans were chosen among the 171 alternate members of the 18th Central Committee:

  • Gonpo Tashi, originally from Qinghai province, serves as the head of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) United Front Work Department. In 2012 he was elected as a Vice Chair of TAR Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference;
  • Li Changping is from the Tibetan area of Nyarong in Sichuan province. He is a member of the standing committee of the Sichuan Committee of the Communist Party of China. In 2010 he was deputy Party Secretary of Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Committee and governor of the prefecture;
  • Tenkho (Danko). From Qinghai province, Tenkho is the Party Secretary in the Yushul (Chinese: Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. He previously served as Secretary of the Party’s Prefectural Committee of Tsolo (Chinese: Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai. Tenkho is the only holdover among the Tibetans receiving Committee assignments, having been an Alternate Member of 17th CPC Central Committee;
  • Losang Gyaltsen serves under Pema Thinley as Vice Governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In addition, there are now two Tibetan Party members who serve on the 130 member Central Commission for Discipline Inspection:

  • Dhondup Wangbum (Chinese: Dainzhub Ongboin, or Tondrub Wangbum), from Gansu province. He is Vice Director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC). In 2004 he was Assistant Governor of Yunnan province. Dhondup Wangbum is also a director of the Ethnic Languages Translation Committee of Translators Association of China.
  • Dorjee Rabten (Chinese: Doje Radain), from Qinghai province. He is a member of the Politburo of Qinghai province, the head of the Qinghai United Front Work Department, and serves as Secretary of the Qinghai Commission for Discipline Inspection.
‘Outside’ the Party and beyond

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) acts as an advisory body to China’s law-making assembly, the National People’s Congress. It is comprised of several hundred individuals who are supposed to represent a diverse array of political views, but in reality the Chinese Communist Party holds sway over the CPPCC both in terms of numbers as well as ideological control.

The leadership transition gives prominence to some younger CCP officials of the ‘Sixth Generation’ who are expected to take a leading role in Chinese politics from 2022 onwards. Some of these younger officials – such as Inner Mongolia CCP Secretary Hu Chunhua (profiled below) – could find themselves in position for further advancement at the 2017 and 2022 CCP Party Congresses.

Leader profiles

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping, who was installed as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chair of the Central Military Commission at the 18th National Congress, is currently Vice President along with other senior national titles, and is expected to be appointed President at the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March 2013.

Unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who presided over martial law in Lhasa in 1989 as Party Secretary of the TAR and was subsequently involved in drafting policy on Tibet, Xi Jinping has had little known involvement in Tibet-policy formulation and implementation beyond any discussions that may have taken place within the Politburo or the Politburo Standing Committee. He has held a seat on the PBSC since March 2008, coinciding with the start of protests that swept across Tibet.

Xi Jinping’s visit to Lhasa as leader-in-waiting and Vice-President in July, 2011, signified the importance to the CCP of asserting their dominance in Tibet. Xi Jinping, who led a 59-member delegation to Tibet’s historic and cultural capital, presided over a ceremony in Lhasa to mark the anniversary of what Beijing characterizes as “the peaceful liberation” of Tibet. In a speech made in front of the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama’s former home and seat of the former Tibetan government, Xi Jinping reiterated the hardline position of the Chinese government on Tibet, emphasizing the importance of “the fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique by firmly relying on all ethnic groups… and [the need to] completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardise national unity” according to reports in the state media.

There was also a symbolic element to the visit given Xi Jinping’s father’s connection to the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Xi Zhongxun, who fought for the Communists against the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek prior to the takeover of the CCP in 1949, was a liberal-minded former Vice Premier of the Party who had regarded both the Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama with great respect. The Dalai Lama gave him a watch as a gift, and he was an interlocutor for the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy in the 1980s. In an obituary for the 10th Panchen Lama published in 1989, Xi Zhongxun described him as “an outstanding representative and leader of the Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhism” while also making the official line clear: “During various historical periods, from the eve of victory of the Chinese people’s war for liberation to the founding of New China, the Great Master Panchen wholeheartedly supported the correct decisions of the Chinese Communist Party.”

In 1951 Xi Zhongxun played a role in the PLA’s invasion of Tibet, negotiating with a local chieftain in a part of Amdo – now in modern-day Qinghai province – to avoid what could have been much loss of life. While some observers have expressed hope that as in the Confucian tradition the son may be influenced by the values of the father, it is perhaps more likely that his father’s role in the ‘liberation’ of Tibet is what Xi Jinping would regard as his father’s legacy.

Analysts describe Xi Jinping’s views on political reform as “remarkably conservative”. During his tenure as Party boss of Zhejiang province from 1995 to 2007, there was a crackdown on labor activists and political dissidents, as well as underground house churches. According to Dui Hua, in Fujian, Xi oversaw the April 2002 arrests of Li Jianfeng and seven other activists who formed an independent trade union. All received stiff sentences, with Li sent to prison for 16 years. After Xi departed from Fujian for Zhejiang, those imprisoned in the case began to be granted clemency.

Xi rose rapidly from county-level positions up to his senior positions in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces before being transferred to the position of Party Secretary of Shanghai in March 2007 after the incumbent, Chen Liangyu, was exposed in a major corruption scandal.

Xi Jinping is a ‘princeling’ (or ‘red nobility’) – a term for the large number of senior Party and government officials who themselves are the children of former senior officials, and who are thus thought to have benefited from nepotism. “Xi is a true ‘elitist’ at heart,” observed a Chinese contact detailed on a US Embassy cable released by Wikileaks. According to the same contact, Xi believes that “rule by a dedicated and committed Communist Party leadership is the key to enduring social stability and national strength.” The cable adds: “Our contact is convinced that Xi has a genuine sense of ‘entitlement,’ believing that members of his generation are the ‘legitimate heirs’ to the revolutionary achievements of their parents and therefore ‘deserve to rule China.'”

Xi Jinping’s wife Peng Liyuan is, a famous Chinese folk singer, is a Buddhist, and according to the same diplomatic cable Xi was taken with ‘Buddhist mysticism’ early in his career.

Peng Liyuan can be viewed singing the ‘Laundry Song’ about the ‘liberation of Tibet’ at High Peaks, Pure Earth. The literary website High Peaks Pure Earth reports: “The song tells the familiar Socialist narrative of the army and the people being one. For the Sino-Tibetan relationship, though, the song puts the Tibetans firmly in a position of subservience, as natives, full of gratitude for the help of the benevolent People’s Liberation Army.”

Earlier this year Indian officials preparing for a visit by Xi Jinping to Delhi were told that Xi “had a “special interest in Tibet and water issues”, according to an article by Indian analyst Jayadeva Ranade (Chinese defence minister’s visit to India is a tepid gesture).

In a Reuters article on Xi Jinping and his connections to Tibet, an unidentified source with leadership ties said: “Every generation of (Chinese) leaders must resolve problems left over from the previous generation. For Hu, it was Taiwan,” the source added, referring to Hu mending fences with the island after his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, threatened it with war games in the run-up to its first direct presidential elections in 1996. “For Xi, it’s Tibet,” the source said. (Article by Benjamin Kang Lim and Frank Jack Daniel, Does China’s next leader have a soft spot for Tibet? – September 1, 2012).

Li Keqiang

Li Keqiang is currently a Vice Premier, but he is expected to become Premier in March 2013 at the meeting of the National People’s Congress.

Li Keqiang is not known to have had direct involvement with Tibet policy-making beyond any discussions that may have taken place within the confines of the Politburo Standing Committee itself. He has been on the PBSC since 2007 when he was appointed Vice Premier, and was almost certainly regularly briefed on events in Tibet as the protests of 2008 unfolded.

During Li Keqiang’s tenure as Party Secretary in Henan Province, villagers who sold blood to government-run blood banks were infected by AIDS, and thousands perished. Li was criticized for attempting to cover up the scandal, and overseeing the harassment and house arrest of whistle-blowers. In some “AIDS villages,” the entire adult population was decimated. Li has been criticized for trying to cover up the blood-trade scandal, failing to hold government officials accountable, and overseeing the harassment and house arrest of whistle-blowers like Dr. Gao Yaojie (高耀洁) and Wan Yanhai (万延海), both of whom have fled to the United States.

When he was transferred later to Liaoning, Li is said to have suppressed media coverage of devastating fires and strikes at state-owned enterprises.

Although a protégé of the Premier Wen Jiabao, Li Keqiang is also a close associate of President Hu Jintao, and it is expected that Hu will continue to exert his influence on the PSC largely through Li. Hu and Li’s 25-year friendship was forged at the China Youth League. According to a number of sources, Hu wanted Li to succeed him as president but was in the end compelled to accept Xi Jinping.

According to the Financial Times, Li studied under Gong Xiangrui, who gave a class on constitutional democracy. With several other students, Li helped translate The Due Process of Law by “people’s judge” Lord Denning. Some of Li’s classmates became dissidents or human rights activists. These include Wang Shaoguang, Hu Ping, Zhang Wei, Fang Zhiming, Wang Juntao and Yang Baikui. (See:

China’s Premier, a post sometimes also referred to as Prime Minister, heads the State Council, which is similar to a cabinet in that it includes the heads of various ministries and other government agencies, and represents China’s government administration. The entire State Council only meets once every six months, although there is a standing committee comprised of a dozen or so senior members who meet on a weekly basis.

Wang Qishan

Wang Qishan, a Vice Premier currently overseeing economic, energy and financial affairs, has had no known involvement in Tibet policy-making beyond any discussions that may have taken place within the Politburo.

He is regarded by observers as a capable “fixer”: he was appointed Mayor of Beijing in the wake of the SARS scandal, and he was Executive Chairman of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

Wang Qishan’s pre-eminence is in the field of economics. He has led the Chinese side of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue since 2009.

Wang spent much of his early career in the banking sector, holding increasingly senior executive and Party positions before being installed to a succession of provincial Party Secretary or Governor positions. Another “princeling” – he is the son-in-law of a former Vice Premier – Wang is a protégé of former President Jiang Zemin, and is also a close friend of Jiang’s son, Jiang Mianheng.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang has been a Vice Premier since 2008. He has held a variety of senior provincial and central government posts, and most recently came to prominence when he took over as Party Secretary of Chongqing Municipality from the disgraced Bo Xilai in March 2012. Another “princeling” – his father was a general in the People’s Liberation Army – Zhang Dejiang graduated from Kim Il Sung University in North Korea with a degree in economics in 1980.

Zhang Dejiang is not known to have had any input on Tibet policy, beyond any discussions that may have taken place within the confines of the Central Committee and the Politburo. While he is known to support economic reforms, particularly in the state-owned sector, it is unlikely he is a keen advocate for political reform given his record. For instance, Zhang was installed as Party Secretary of Guangdong province in 2002 just as the SARS epidemic was breaking, and he was instrumental in suppressing information about its spread; he then oversaw a tightening of control over the media in Guangdong when newspapers defied his gagging order and published vital information about the disease.

Zhang is a protégé of former President Jiang Zemin; Zhang’s career progressed much more rapidly soon after he accompanied President Jiang on a visit to North Korea in 1990.

Zhang Gaoli

Zhang Gaoli is not known to have had any direct involvement in Tibet policy-making. An economist by training, Zhang spent much of his early career in the oil industry before being appointed to government and Party posts in Guangdong province in the early 1980s, including Party Secretary of Shenzhen, the thriving city that became the show-case for economic reforms championed by President Jiang Zemin. He then took a series of increasingly senior Party posts until his appointment as Party Secretary of Tianjin in 2007 – a post similar in stature to Party Secretary of Shanghai.

Zhang is regarded as a protégé of former president Jiang Zemin. He is also described as a protégé of Zeng Qinghong, the former Director of the CCP Organization Department (see Li Yuanchao), when Zhang Gaoli was appointed Party Secretary of Shandong province in 2001. Some reports suggest Zhang Gaoli was especially severe in his treatment of members of the outlawed Falun Gong movement in Shandong province because of his relationship with Jiang Zemin, who initiated the crackdown on Falun Gong in 1999.

Yu Zhengsheng

Yu Zhengsheng has had no known involvement in Tibet policy making. Trained in electrical engineering at a military academy, Yu Zhengsheng has spent the vast majority of his working and political career in eastern China, rising to the powerful position of Party Secretary of Shanghai, replacing Xi Jinping in 2007.

Yu Zhengsheng is considered by many observers to be well connected to the aristocracy of the Chinese Communist Party, although his career stalled in the mid 1980s when his brother, a senior intelligence official, defected to the United States. Yu Zhengsheng is a “princeling,” the son of Yu Qiwei, a prominent early Chinese Communist Party activist who went on to be Mayor and Party Secretary of Tianjin – the large port city that serves Beijing. Yu Qiwei was also married for a while to Jiang Qing, who later married Chairman Mao. Yu Zhengsheng also has close connections to the families of former presidents Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.

He is regarded by observers as conservative in his views, and someone who “will not compromise the Party’s interests.” A stance that rules out “compromising” the Party almost certainly casts Yu Zhengsheng as an obstacle to political reform; however, with his own status and career so unusually wedded to the Party, any opposition to reform could easily be depicted – if not actually dismissed – as self-interest.

Liu Yunshan

Liu Yunshan, Director of the CCP Central Committee Propaganda Department, has had no known involvement in Tibet policy-making beyond any discussions that may have taken place within the Politburo, where he has held a seat since 2002, but his role of propaganda in framing the Tibet issue has been formative in implementation of the crackdown.

Liu Yunshan’s career has been spent almost entirely in propaganda: his first 20 years or so were spent in increasingly senior posts in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region before he went to Beijing in the early 1990s to work as Deputy Director of the CCP Central Committee Propaganda Department, and then Director in 2002.

Despite spending much of his youth and his early career in Inner Mongolia, there is nothing in his biography to suggest he developed any kind of interest in or affinity with the Mongolian people and culture.

Liu Yunshan takes the reins from the retiring Li Changchun as China’s ‘propaganda tsar’. He now heads the Ideology and Propaganda Leading Small Group which oversees propaganda policies for the Politburo and the Party’s entire administrative structure.

Politburo leaders who built their careers in Tibet

Hu Chunhua

Forty-nine year old Hu Chunhua, who speaks conversational Tibetan, served in Tibet from 1983 to 2006-7, becoming Deputy Party Secretary in the TAR. He is a protégé of Hu Jintao, after they worked together in Tibet. He may become a member of the PBSC in 2017, and is talked about as a possible leader of China in 2022. Reuters reported in September (2012) that Hu Jintao’s efforts to promote Hu Chunhua to the PBSC, so ensuring it was stacked with his allies, had failed.

Hu Chunhua is from a peasant background, and unlike the Princelings on the PBSC, as a child he had to walk kilometers to school every day in straw sandals.

A cable by US Ambassador to China Randt dated May 2007 (released by Wikileaks) stated: “Hu, who did not appear to speak or understand much English, said that he had studied Tibetan and was able to hold simple conversations when he was working at the grass-roots in Tibet, but that he had forgotten much of the language after he was promoted to the TAR Government and no longer used it regularly. He mentioned several times in the conversation his keen interest in Tibetan culture and religion. Hu appeared quite fit, but said his only exercise regimen is walking.” China analyst Willy Wo Lap Lam describes Hu as “self-effacing to a fault”.

Hu has been the Party chief in Inner Mongolia since late 2009. In May 2011, he faced a major test when a Mongolian herder was killed by Han Chinese truck drivers. Anger over the killing, directly linked to herder protests about coal mining in the region, sparked six days of demonstrations by thousands in the Mongolian capital Hohhot and elsewhere. Hu Chunhua reacted not be adopting even more oppressive measures, as in Tibet or Xinjiang, but by arresting the perpetrators and engaging in talks with students, protestors and other local people to calm the situation.

Also see Brookings Institute Leaders to Watch »

Guo Jinlong

Guo Jinlong, also a protégé of Hu Jintao, served in the TAR for more than a decade including as Party Secretary from 2000 to 2004.

Guo Jinlong, who is known for his experience in economic policy, has served in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) since autumn 2000, when he took over from the hardliner Chen Kuiyuan – a relatively short period of time to serve as Tibet’s most senior leader. Chen held the post for nearly eight years while China’s new Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao was Party Secretary of the TAR from 1988 to 1992-3.

Guo Jinlong’s appointment as Party Secretary in 2000 was greeted with some relief by Tibetan cadres and intellectuals following the zealous hardline approach of his predecessor Chen Kuiyuan on culture and religion. Chen had formerly served in Inner Mongolia, a minority autonomous region now dominated culturally and economically by ethnic Chinese, and arrived in Tibet at the beginning of the 1990s with a similar ideological mission, reflecting the policy of the Party to tighten political control of Tibetan areas. The final year of Chen’s tenure in Tibet, a few months before 56-year old former magistrate Guo Jinlong took over, was marked by a crackdown on religion in the form of searches of homes for religious objects and a ban on some religious festivals in the countryside outside Lhasa. Even some Party members are said to have expressed concern about the discontent caused by these policies, feeling that they would ultimately be counter-productive.

Guo Jinlong, a former magistrate from Nanjing in Jiangsu province, pledged to maintain the continuity of Chen’s policies following his appointment in October of that year, but implementation of the policies appeared to be less aggressive following the handover. His appointment appeared to signify an emphasis on economic development as opposed to the strong focus on control and repression under Chen.

Guo Jinlong made himself more accessible to the Western media than previous Party Secretaries, reflecting the Party’s new confidence in Tibet policy in recent years. He hosted a press conference for Western journalists during one of two official press trips to the TAR last autumn. In an interview with the New York Times on 7 November 2001, Guo emphasised the importance of fast-track economic development while yielding no ground to the Dalai Lama. In the interview with China correspondent Erik Eckholm, Guo Jinlong said that the Dalai Lama was seen by most Tibetans as “a schemer, a splittist and an opportunist” and stressed the requirement of atheism for Party members. But he also said that China’s struggle against the Dalai Lama and Tibet “separatists” was not a part of the global war against terror following 11 September 2001, and he expressed confidence that people’s commitment to Chinese socialism would increase as the economy developed and both Tibetans and Chinese became more prosperous. Eckholm described Guo as “an urbane and polished official”.

Guo was promoted from Mayor of Beijing to its Party Secretary in July 2012, a promotion unaffected by dozens being killed when floods hit Beijing (an embarrassment for the authorities who had spent large sums of money improving Beijing’s drainage system).

For commentary and analysis of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, please read “China’s 18th Parry Congress and Tibet” by Bhuchung K. Tsering on ICT’s blog >>