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June 2, 2006

China’s Domestic Politics
Dr. Paul Heer

Dr. Paul Heer, a Senior China Analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, discussed past and present trends in Chinese domestic politics with the 2006 Policymakers Seminar participants. Dr. Heer began his lecture by providing each congressional staff member with a chart mapping out the organization of the Chinese leadership. He explained that the structure of the leadership consisted of three main institutions: the Party, Government, and military.

Throughout most of China’s communist history, political power and influence have been independent from official titles. In the past, holding an official post was not necessarily representative of political power. 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. The current Chinese President Hu Jintao is the head of all three institutions and the Party is at the center of all policy decisions.

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.

Despite growing institutionalization, Dr. Heer noted that historically the Chinese government has lacked such institutionalization and emphasized that China is still a one-party state. 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.

Nonetheless, the Chinese are making substantial economic reforms as the CCP understands it depends on economic growth as a means of legitimacy. In order to sustain such growth, China will have to make several difficult economic decisions. Can China contain the social upheaval created by economic change? Can China sustain the “Third Way?” Dr. Heer did not make any guesses as to what the long-term outcomes might be 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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