This morning, China’s Communist Party revealed its new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Gone were three senior cadres. In were four new faces. Almost all of the attention in the run up to this grand announcement has focused on two of the newcomers, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Xi, close to former leader Jiang Zemin, is acceptable to all the factions in the Party. Li is the favorite of current supremo, Hu Jintao. One of them is expected to replace Hu five years from now. Xi, by virtue of his ranking in the new hierarchy, is now the front-runner.
But more important than the elevation of Xi and Li is the retention of Jia Qinglin, 67, the fourth-ranking official. Jia served as the Party boss of coastal Fujian province during the most serious corruption scandal in the history of the People’s Republic. His wife, Lin Youfang, was the head of the province’s main import-export company at the time, and was viewed to be connected intimately to customs fraud. She was investigated, and so were officials close to Jia. The pudgy cadre survived the incident only because of his close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader at the time. Jiang was even able to engineer Jia’s elevation to the Standing Committee in 2002—not surprising at that especially corrupt period in China’s history.
Hu Jintao, as a means of putting distance between himself and Jiang, has said consistently that his administration is determined to root out official venality. At a time when corruption undermines the stability of the Communist Party, Jia’s ability to maintain his position at the apex of power says that the political system has lost the ability to deal with critical problems. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about governance in China. It certainly is more important than knowing which cautious bureaucrat is scheduled to become the next head of the Communist Party in 2012. After all, there is not much future for a political organization that cannot deal with the most serious threat to its existence.