Tuesday 13 April 2021
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China’s upcoming party congress and the coming-of-age of its sixth generation

President Geingob’s remarks at the recently concluded UN General Assembly that Namibia is grooming the youth to take over from the old guard caught my attention and possibly those of many other people in the country, if we are to go by the statement of the recently appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Rear Admiral Peter Hafeni Vilho who said “At the United Nations General Assembly, President Hage Geingob said the Tanganyika group will leave very soon. I believe the same applies to the Oshaatotwa group”.
These remarks come hot on the heels of what President Geingob said at the UN General Assembly that “In Namibia, we value the empowerment of the youth.
Many of the so-called older guard, have been groomed and well prepared in the structures of the ruling party and Government before they were assigned higher responsibilities. This practice continues with a number of deputy ministers that are youthful…. Very soon, the last crop of the “Tanganyika Group” including myself will make way for the new breed”.
Hopefully President Geingob was not suggesting to hand over power to what some call the  ‘Nampundwe group’ which drafted the 1976 SWAPO’s  constitution in Zambia following the ‘Tanganyika group’ named after the Tanga Consultative Conference of December 1969 to January 1970 but I hope he was also referring to the generation of those born in the 60’s.
In post-Mao China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has paid close attention to its generational leadership succession. Deng Xiaoping’s warning, in the early 1980s, about the danger of “lacking an upcoming echelon in Chinese leadership” seems not to apply for present-day China.
In China, institutional regulations and norms, especially mandatory ages for retirement or what is called the informal age limit at 68, have remained effective. Even against the occasional backdrop of political infighting, scandals, and purges, China has conducted peaceful, orderly, and institutionalized transfers of power twice in the recent past: from Jiang Zemin’s “third generation” of leaders to Hu Jintao’s “fourth generation” at the 16th National Party Congress in 2002, and then to Xi Jinping’s “fifth generation” at the 18th National Party Congress in 2012.
The upcoming 19th Party National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that will be convened at the Palace of the People in Beijing from the 18th to the 28 October, will not constitute a full-fledged transition, as not only will Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will remain in power as they did not yet reach the age limit of 68, but we can also expect the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC)—the country’s supreme decision-making body—to maintain a majority of fifth-generation leaders.
Indeed, the 19th Congress will pick new Politburo Standing Committee members to replace those hitting the informal age limit of 68. Should the age limit be strictly enforced, then five of the seven incumbents will have to step down including Wang Qishan, the anti-corruption chief and a Xi ally.
At the age of 69, Wang is only slightly over the limit. Keeping him on the Politburo Standing Committee would breach the age limit.
Identifying the other front-runners to fill the four vacancies left on the Politburo Standing Committee is much harder. Two of the current Politburo members appear to be safe bets. They are Li Zhanshu, Xi’s chief of staff, and Han Zheng, Shanghai’s party chief who was mayor of Shanghai while Xi served as the city’s party chief.
Besides cementing his dominance of the Politburo Standing Committee, Xi will almost certainly appoint a large number of his political protégés, such as the newly promoted party chiefs of Beijing and Chongqing, into the Politburo.
Thus, the combination of Xi’s political supremacy and lack of strong candidates meeting all the eligibility requirements means that the succession issue will not be resolved with any clarity at the 19th Congress.
Xi can make a plausible case to his colleagues that this issue should be deferred to the 20th Congress. Such a development will greatly strengthen Xi’s hand in his second term.
The appointment of a clear successor would have made him a lame duck five years ahead of time. The postponement of such a decision until 2022 leaves the door open for a third term, which is actually not prohibited under the CCP’s charter. The only office occupied by Xi subject to term limit is the presidency (officially called the chairman of the People’s Republic).
Cheng Li, Director of the Brookings Institution, wrote an article on China’s upcoming Party Congress and the Coming-of-Age of its Sixth Generation. According to Cheng Li patterns in leadership reshuffling in the lead-up to the 19th National Party Congress—especially at the provincial level—clearly reveal the coming-of-age of the CCP’s sixth generation of leaders.
As of August 2017, an impressive 298 of the 369 members of China’s 31 province-level party standing committees were born in the 1960s, or 80.7% of the total. In other words, the proportion of sixth-generation representation in this important leadership group has doubled in only two years. This trend is even more pronounced in Heilongjiang and Chongqing, where all members of the respective provincial and municipal party committees, including party secretaries and deputy party secretaries, belong to the sixth generation. Similarly, the governors and vice-governors in Shandong and Jilin and the mayor and vice mayors in Chongqing all hail from the sixth-generation.
At the 19th National Party Congress, sixth-generation leaders will also likely constitute a majority on the new Central Committee, whereas they accounted for only 18.6% of the current 18th Central Committee.
Over the past 25 years, top provincial posts have served as the primary stepping-stones to national leadership positions. More than three-quarters of current Politburo members (19 out of 25) have served as provincial chiefs (i.e., party secretaries, governors, or mayors).
Moreover, all seven of the current PSC members have served as top provincial leaders unlike here where Governors never went through the structures but are appointed based on loyalty to a faction. Little wonder some of them are now committing one blunder after another behaving like leaders of a tribal clique and not representing the state.
At present in China, 17 provincial chiefs, including three provincial party secretaries and 14 governors or mayors in China, belong to the sixth generation of leaders. These leaders, along with Jiangsu Party Secretary Li Qiang (b. 1959) and Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui, should be seen as leading candidates to succeed Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, and other top leaders in the foreseeable future.
Sixth-generation leaders have also begun to emerge in the State Council and as of August 2017, 86 of the 131 vice-ministers and assistant ministers in China’s 26 ministries are sixth-generation leaders.
Similarly, military leaders—all born in the 1960s—have been fast-tracked for promotion to the military rank of lieutenant general and will likely join the new Central Committee. After the 19th National Party Congress, these officers will comprise a new cohort of military elite, second in prominence only to those in the  Central Military Commission (CMC).
At a basic level, the rapid rise and strong presence of sixth-generation leaders in China’s provincial, ministerial, and military leadership suggest that the Xi administration recognizes the importance of smooth political succession. I therefore agree with the view that says a great leader is made up of five key elements such as heart or compassion, brain or canniness, muscle, nerve or courage, including the ability to identify talent and groom new leaders.
That is why I agree with the newly appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Rear Admiral Peter Hafeni Vilho when he said “We are transitional leaders. We are the bridge that links the Plan veterans to those that were enlisted after independence.
What we do in our last days in the service will determine whether we leave behind a professional force, where regulations are enforced, or an armed militia where everyone does as he or she pleases”
The same applies to all civil servants if they will leave behind a professional force or a clique based on tribal preferences and factional loyalties. “We should bear in mind that our responsibility is to create public value. Creating public value means producing institutions, enterprises, policies, programmes, projects, services that advance the public interest and the common good,” Rear Admiral Vilho said.
In Namibia, so far it is only the Founding President, quoting an Oshiwambo proverb that says “without any calf you have no cow”, who groomed most of the current crops of leaders including those who want to box him into factional battles and those who were saying they don’t want to be led by an octogenarian yet they want to block the youth from leadership positions by inventing some flimsy excuses with clauses or rules of having been a leader for 30 years.
Meanwhile, they conveniently forgot that the first President started at sixty as Head of State and retired at the age of 75 while the second President retired at the age of 76.
Throughout our struggle, the forces of division have continuously sought to separate and to set the leadership at loggerheads and thus divide and weaken the movement but the movement has been the most consistent advocate of an inclusive nationhood thanks to the visionary, consistent and pragmatic leadership of our Founding President, Dr Sam Nujoma who sustained and provided coherence to our broad movement. Even during the most enduring upheavals, he spearheaded the struggle and brought together the different forces that coalesced around a common objective.
Now the debate revolves around the issues of two centres of power, the second term, the gender issue and a possible candidate of compromise or an uncontested leadership but no one talks about the age limit and the grooming of new leaders like in China.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.

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