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.