Political divisions in the Chinese ruling class

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We recently cast an eye over the development of class struggle in China[1] and here we want to look at some of the problems that will affect the bourgeoisie of the People’s Republic in the run-up to the  eighteenth Communist Party Conference in autumn this year when the new leadership will be anointed. But first, a murder mystery – or a suspected murder mystery:

A British national called Neil Heywood, living in China with his Chinese wife died in a hotel room in suspicious circumstances in the middle of last November. Bo Xilai, the party boss of Chongqing and son of a veteran of Mao’s “Long March” and of the Cultural Revolution, has been removed from his post and his wife, Gu Kailai, is in jail charged with murder. More intrigue was involved when Bo’s ex-police chief and previous ally, Wang Lijun, defected to the US through its consulate in Chengdu. Reports ascribed Heywood’s death to a coronary and to excessive alcohol. At any rate, there was no post-mortem and the body was quickly cremated. Heywood was a friend and apparently some sort of financial advisor to the family of Bo before a reported falling out. Heywood, one of several ‘class of 84’ Old-Harrovians resident in and around Beijing, with links to the higher echelons of the Chinese state, also worked for the corporate intelligence unit, Hakluyt, set up by ex-MI6 elements. The British security services have said that he wasn’t working for them, which is exactly what they would say. Despite being pressed by Heywood’s British family and the British embassy being very aware of his death and the strange circumstances around it, the Foreign Office only asked the Chinese authorities to open an enquiry into his death in February/March this year – nearly four months after the event. Whatever the murky goings on here, these events have become part of the manoeuvring that, despite its constant references to “unity”, is going on in this Stalinist state. Party unity, or a facade of unity, is important to present both to the population at large and the outside world; and even if Bo has been set up here, events point to some faction fighting within the regime as Bo was likely to be appointed to the standing committee of the Politburo on the basis of his wider support within the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Another factor it points to is the endemic corruption throughout the regime, and the party has long warned that this corruption is a great threat to its grip on power. In contrast to the old party cadres and factions, the current individuals in the elite have made enormous monetary gains which have been spread about through families and cliques. These people generally live above the law and can make a lot of money. They would need advice though on how to get it out of China. This is possibly where the Old-Harrovian connections come in. China World (18/4/12), quotes Bloomberg on the leadership’s wealth. The politically well-connected have thrived in China and the country’s leaders, President Jintao and Premier Jiabao, have amassed staggering amounts of wealth:  “... the families of the various members of the Politburo have very large assets”. Bloomberg went on to say, in a special report on China: “The National People’s Congress 70 richest members added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of the US Congress, the president and his cabinet and the US Supreme Court judges”. It estimates their average worth at $1.28 billion, making Mitt Romney look skint.

Even with a projected lower growth rate of around 7.5%, something other capitals would kill for, the Chinese state is facing growing problems. The era of cheap labour has finished and, along with mounting and poisonous corruption, there has been an enormous growth in social inequality. This latter alone will make the so-called “necessity for reforms” all the more problematic. One of the striking aspects of the tens of thousands of reported “incidents” is how many were undertaken by the peasants and the older generation against arrogant and corrupt land seizures and pollution. The whole “democratic” campaign, mostly engendered outside China, extends beyond Free Trade Unions and towards moves to local democracy. This is partly a response to these extremely militant protests against the Party structures and the official unions. For example, the protests against land seizures took on the proportions of an uprising in Wukan last year; this is far from the Chinese leadership’s preaching about the “harmonious society” and is indicative that growth in China has benefited capital and the elite and not the workers and peasants of this country. Further problems will come as the benefit to capital of the “demographic dividend” ie, the excess of young workers which has fuelled the “economic miracle”, fades as a result of the falling birthrate: “In 2000, there were six workers for every over-60. By 2030, there will be barely two” (Tania Branigan, Guardian, March 20). People in rural areas rely on their own work and that of their children but the culture of looking after the parents has been smashed by the needs of the capitalist economy. Children may work far from their parents now and many won’t have the time, money or energy to look after them. And the situation with pensions and care for the old is even worse than in the west, with the World Bank stating that China has only enough care home places for 1.6% of its over-60s.

Another endemic problem for China (and the world) is pollution. In early March Vice Minister of the Environment, Wu Xiaoqing, admitted that three-quarters of Chinese cities do not meet the wildly lenient standards on air quality. US embassy readings in the capital over one 24-hour period showed air quality micrograms-per-metre readings five-and-a-half times greater than upper US limits, and this is by no means the worst affected city. This pollution has an immediate impact on cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer over the longer term. The World Health Organisation estimated deaths in China from respiratory diseases alone to be 750,000 a year. Decidedly dangerous, heavy metal pollution has increased, with the Chinese Environment Minister admitting to 30 serious incidents since 2009. Carbon dioxide emissions have more than doubled in the last ten years and Environment Ministry studies suggest that 40% of river water will make you sick. Water shortages are becoming critical with extensive droughts forecast and the great leap forward into hydro power has faltered because of the lack of water, while, according to Yang Fuqang of the World Resources Institute, coal increased its share of national energy supply to above 72%. And here, the democratic dreamers appeal to investors to move to cleaner energy – as if they are going to listen. According to Yang, if environmental damage was included, China’s growth rate would be halved.

On the level of imperialism, tensions have increased with India over Tibet (and Nepal) and China has taken political umbrage over India’s position vis-a-vis the Dalai Lama. With the self-immolation of a number of Buddhist monks these last weeks, protests in Tibet against the rigours of Chinese occupation have grown enormously in both size and strength to such an extent that the “People’s Army” have had to withdraw in places or risk a massacre of protesters of Syrian proportions. There have also been demonstrations and protest inside China in Chinqui and Szechuan, home to millions of Tibetans. Unrest is also continuing in the Uighur region. On a wider level, there’s a new generation of Chinese diplomats coming through well versed in the imperatives of China’s national interests world-wide.

A big negative at the moment for China concerns developments in Myanmar (Burma) where Chinese imperialism very much had the upper hand. It began about a year ago when a major hydroelectric dam construction was halted after protests against China’s land purchase and pollution of the environment. There is a battle taking place here for influence, with the USA, as part of the latter’s Asia/Pacific push, coming directly against China’s interests. As the New York Times, 8/4/12 put it: “As Myanmar loosens the grip of decades of military dictatorship and improves links with the United States, China fears a threat to a strategic partnership that offers access to the Indian Ocean and a long-sought short cut for oil deliveries from the Middle East”. Prime Minister Cameron’s break from his arms sales trip last week to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratic pin-up politician, shows Britain backing the US push as well as defending its own imperialist interests in the region. The British intelligence services have a long standing involvement and interest in her “National League for Democracy” – a likely force in the forthcoming elections. Since he got back to the UK, Cameron has lobbied hard in Europe for the lifting of sanctions against the regime – again showing how sanctions are just another weapon of imperialism. Further assertiveness against China by the US is demonstrated in the plans to base American long-range B52 bombers in northern Australia along with the deployment of 2,500 US marines to be based in Darwin (Times, 11.4.12). Both moves show the closer cooperation between the Pentagon and the Australian military which is clearly aimed towards China.

At the end of her recent trip to China Hilary Clinton said relations between the US and China “will determine the course of history in the 21st century” (New York Times online). The real point of the visit, for the US, was to get China to allow the renminbi to appreciate in value against the dollar, and for diplomacy on various conflicts where the two powers have different interests. So the US wanted to neutralise Chinese opposition to sanctions against Syria and support for North Korea. In the media this has been overshadowed by the affair of the blind dissident, Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the US embassy, agreed to leave it and then demanded to leave China. This has allowed the US to exert pressure on the issue of human rights and embarrassed China. It is difficult to believe it was a coincidence.

The new leadership, the next generation of gangsters, will come out of the smoke and mirrors of the autumn Party Congress. There will probably be no surprises and the layer of what they call the “princelings” (of which the disgraced Bo was one) are already being prepared or eliminated. There are profound political, economic and social challenges facing the regime, not least a growing property bubble, inflation and bankrupt regions with huge local debts; as well as the deepening crisis of the whole capitalist system and the undefeated and combative working class – a very important battalion of the world proletariat - that we looked at in the first (online) article. 

Baboon  4/5/12