Rank of the Foreign Policy Portfolio
Those monitoring China's engagement in climate talks, its relations
with the United States, and its territorial disputes with its neighbors
should look to see whether China's topmost foreign policy official, the
head of the CCP Foreign Affairs Office is granted greater authority by
elevating the position to the rank of Politburo member.
China is a major player on the world stage yet, at present, its
senior foreign policy official lacks the authority to manage a foreign
policy arena that has become crowded with different agencies and state
corporations promoting their own agendas and diluting the power of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a mere ordinary member of the Central
Committee--a body of more than 300 members--he holds the same political
rank as the other ministers or generals. No wonder the current occupant
of the position, Dai Bingguo, complains that no one listens to him when
he tries to rein in the nine civilian maritime agencies, the state
energy corporations, and the PLA Navy that are antagonizing China's
Asian neighbors by going their own way in the South China Sea.
If China's leaders recognize the need for more effective foreign
policy restraint to head off the growing backlash to China's provocative
behavior they should make the next foreign policy czar a Politburo
member, as Qian Qichen was in the 1990s. Xi Jinping will have too many
other responsibilities to handle foreign policy coordination on his own.
That's why in most other governments the foreign minister is one of the
most important members of the cabinet.
Party and Military Leadership
Anyone tracking China's rapid military modernization or worrying
about recent hints of military insubordination should watch closely to
see whether when Hu Jintao retires as Communist Party head, he also
cedes his post as commander-in-chief.
In 2002, the other leaders eased Jiang Zemin into retirement by
allowing him to stay on as chairman of the Central Military Commission
until 2004. The existence of two separate centers of power--Hu Jintao
became General Secretary and President, but Jiang still gave the orders
to the People's Liberation Army--made the entire élite, including the
military officer corps, very uneasy. Particularly in foreign and defense
matters, no one knew who was actually in charge. After two years, Jiang
finally stepped down from the Military Commission and handed it over to
Hu. But according to many accounts, Jiang used this two-year transition
to solidify his informal influence over personnel appointments and
Many Chinese critics blame the broken policy process during the Hu
Jintao era on Hu's failure to assert his authority under the shadow of
Jiang's continued influence. Hu's full retirement from all his posts at
the same time would enhance his legacy as a leader who promoted the
institutionalization of Communist Party rule and clear lines of civilian
authority over the military. But it would leave him, his associates and
his family less protected from the anti-corruption investigations that
have become a feature of elite competition in the post-Mao era.