JAMES HATTORI, host:
China's ruling Communist Party is set to meet tomorrow in Beijing for an event that comes around once every five years, the National Congress. It's a time when ordinary Chinese and analyst alike parse the news for hints of future changes in policies and leaders. A final five-year term for President Hu Jintao is sure to be approved. And there's a decent chance that the party Congress will provide a clue or two about his possible successor.
NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn is in the Chinese capital.
ANTHONY KUHN: Hi, James.
HATTORI: The script for this party Congress has already been written, as usual. How does it read to you?
KUHN: Well, it basically reads like the party charter. And what the party charter says is that the party delegates - there about 2,200 party delegates representing over 73 million Chinese Communist Party members - will choose a central committee with about 350 people. They will choose a 20-member (unintelligible) bureau and then a nine-member standing committee, which is the highest body in the party. And also, they will select a general secretary who at the moment is Hu Jintao.
And these new lineup will meet the public at a press conference on the last day of the Congress. The real script, though, we can't see. And while the script of the surface makes it look like a sort of bottom up process, in fact it's from the top down, the top leaders control all the nomination for these positions and when the central committee finally votes for Hu Jintao, he will be the only name on the ballot, so there won't be much choice.
HATTORI: Hu Jintao is not due to step aside until 2012 at the earliest, how willing and able is Hu at this point to give a helpful push to his choice as successor?
KUHN: Oh, he's definitely willing to appoint a successor. I mean, I think every leader in Chinese politics would like to appoint his own successor just so he that he can retain influence from behind the scenes. And China is not far past that era when rulers ruled for life. The problem is that who does not have enough power to do it.
If he does not appoint a successor, the options are either that they choose one by group consensus or they hold competitive elections. And I don't think that's going to happen this time. It might happen at earliest at 2012.
HATTORI: There have been reports about changes in the party's powerful inner circle - these elders that willed so much influence. What does this shifting say about the direction China is likely to move in?
KUHN: Well, just from the names of the politicians that are expected to enter the inner circle, it's a very divided group. You'll have allies of the former president Jiang Zemin. You'll have some of the current one, Hu Jintao, people who represent the elites and are descendants of old revolutionaries. You will have people who come from more humble backgrounds and worked their way through the bureaucracy.
So it's a very discrete group and this could mean more competitive politics. It could mean political deadlock, difficulty in bringing forth new policies. It could make for more infighting and less stable politics. But the new group will probably be younger, better educated and with backgrounds more concentrated in the humanities.
HATTORI: Anthony, what are you looking forward to this week? You know, I went to one years ago and it's a grand spectacle. What kind of political theatre are you anticipating?
KUHN: Well, it certainly is something you don't see much anymore - the huge halls filled with red flags and hammers and sickles. A lot of times, it's very surreal sort of theatre. For example, there's a very slick media center, but ask them questions about when the whole thing ends or how people will be elected, and they say they don't know any more than you do. A lot of the things we're discussing here, the air is apparent, the factions are not admitted. They say factions, what factions. But in fact, anyone who knows a bit about Chinese politics know they've always been there.
So in a way, we're looking at history that seems to be stuck in a time warp. the same opaqueness and stilted jargon such as the three represents and harmonious society. But in other ways, we're floating into uncharted territory as the country and its politicians grope for a solution to this age-old problem of how to pick new leaders.
HATTORI: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing for tomorrow's opening of China's Communist Party Congress. Thanks, Anthony.
KUHN: Thanks, James.
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