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June 3 – “China’s Domestic Politics” with Dr. Paul Heer, Lecture III of the Policymakers Seminar Series

Dr. Paul Heer, Senior China Analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, spoke to the 2005 Policymakers Seminar participants about recent trends in Chinese domestic politics. He began his lecture by passing out wall charts of the Chinese leadership. He explained that in the past holding an official post did not necessarily mean holding much political power. Throughout most of China’s communist history, political power and influence have been independent from official titles. For example, Deng Xiaoping only held relatively lowly titles, but was supreme leader of China. Dr. Heer explained that this process is changing, and the wall chart of party and government leaders is increasingly indicative of actual power and position.

Despite growing institutionalization, Dr. Heer emphasized that China is still a one-party state, and though the Chinese government is pragmatic and no longer Marxist, it does not intend to make substantial democratic political reforms. Instead, the CCP is attempting to revitalize the one party state.

Dr. Heer began an overview of the Chinese government structure by explaining the Chinese government as a function of three overlapping institutions: Party, state and military. The Politburo Standing Committee is composed of nine leaders elected by the Politburo Central Committee and is the most powerful leadership group. On paper, all political power in China stems from the National People’s Congress (NPC), but the NPC is largely a rubber-stamp for Party policies. In fact, the Chinese government is still entirely deferential to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The People’s Liberation Army is a party army, not a state army, further reinforcing the CCP’s control over the government.

Nonetheless, the Chinese are making substantial economic reforms. Dr. Heer explained that the CCP is dependent on economic growth for legitimacy and that China will have to make several difficult economic changes in order to sustain its growth. Can China contain the social upheaval created by economic change? Can they sustain the “Third Way?” Dr. Heer did not guess at the long-term outcome but assured our participants that the CCP will try to hold a steady course of growing market capitalism under a one party neo-authoritarian government structure.

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