Rumors have resurfaced on the future of the Chinese leadership, and if any of them are to be believed, big changes are in the works. Conflicting sources have suggested a variety of prospects for Wang Qishan — the anti-corruption czar who is widely seen as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s closest aide — and Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The rumor mill was set turning by the secret gathering at the Beidaihe summer resort, which reportedly drew to a close last week. For decades, the annual beach meeting of senior party officials and Communist elders around July and August has served as a metric for assessing the often-opaque Chinese political landscape, as well as key personnel arrangements. This is particularly true as China’s Communist elites approach their landmark leadership transition at the 19th Party Congress, slated for early November.
Wang Qishan is rumored to be stepping down in the transition. Rumors have also swirled that Li is set to be replaced by either Xi’s right-hand man, Li Zhanshu, or Vice Premier Wang Yang. However, conflicting sources have claimed that Wang will retain his position and that Li will keep his current office for the sake of political continuity.
The lack of consensus from overseas rumor mills suggests that the lengthy process of negotiating a leadership reshuffle is by no means settled. But each possible arrangement points to a different explanation of Xi’s objectives in consolidating power leading up to the transition. Critical to that consolidation is whether Xi will be able to move key allies into a majority of the seats in top decision-making bodies. He’s been successful thus far, as evidenced by the deployment of key allies into a number of important provincial, military and ministerial posts over the past two years. But Xi is by no means free to determine all top-level appointments. Wang Qishan is set to retire this year from his post on the Politburo Standing Committee, and accusations of corruption from overseas may prevent him from retaining the position. Although the accusations are unverified, attempts to protect Wang’s position could be met with resistance. However, if Xi breaks with precedent by retaining Wang — or goes even further by replacing Li Keqiang with Wang Qishan or Wang Yang — Xi’s status as the party’s core leader will be unassailable.
This year’s Beidaihe meeting occurred against a backdrop of substantial shifts in the structure of Chinese political elites, moving from a collective model toward a more personal one. The South China Morning Post reported that the gathering of current and retired leaders at Beidaihe was not to discuss the state of Chinese politics or a reshuffle in leadership. Rather, the affair was entirely for the purpose of a holiday. Regardless, rumors surrounding the transition of power will continue to reflect simmering political rivalries.
Source: Stratfor August 22, 2017