What is this?
This interactive product unpacks what was perhaps the most important political event of 2017: China’s leadership transition. At the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), held from October 18 and lasting one week, the key task was to form a new Politburo Standing Committee (hereafter, The Committee), the country’s highest ruling body. The new members of The Committee were publicly unveiled for the first time at the conclusion of the Congress.
So who made it onto The Committee? Thousands of MacroPolo users participated in the predictive fun and so it’s time to see how they voted. The game has been closed and the resulting scenario can be viewed on the analysis page. There, you can also read our analysis of China’s governing norms, see various scenarios we had developed with predictive odds, gain an understanding of how we view “hard” and “soft” norms in China’s Leninist political system, and peruse basic biographies of several dozen senior leaders of China.
Why does The Committee matter?
China’s quinquennial “selectoral cycle” deserves as much attention as the US presidential election typically commands. That is because it will profoundly influence the world’s second-largest economy and China’s relationship with the world.
The new incarnation of The Committee will govern China for the next five years, a period that could see the Chinese economy reach near parity with the United States, Beijing adopt a more muscular foreign policy, and an increasingly uneasy US-China relationship. Domestic political dynamics will have tangible effects on economic policy; the question of reform will continue to hang over The Committee long after the Congress concludes.
Ultimately, elite politics in China will have ripple effects far beyond its borders. It is a key variable that will determine whether the world should expect to deal with a relatively stable or unstable China, as well as a pro-market or more statist China.
Briefly explain The Committee?
The Committee is sometimes compared to the Board of Directors of a large corporation and is the pinnacle of political power in the CCP. Its composition has vacillated between five and nine members in recent decades but currently has seven members. Every five years, there is significant turnover in this ruling body as new leaders ascend to power. A few months after The Committee membership is settled, a new government is formed.
Each member of The Committee is designated a specific portfolio, which can include overseeing the economy or managing the inner workings of the CCP bureaucracy. The top position on The Committee is the CCP General Secretary, who is usually considered first among equals, although the extent of his power has varied over time.
The members of The Committee are selected undemocratically—by an elite “selectorate” rather than a popular electorate. But while the process is opaque and sometimes likened to the selection of a Pope, the CCP has instituted a few norms since 1978 that guide the selection process and make the outcome modestly more predictable. The new candidates need to meet age and performance requirements and are typically already in the larger 25-member Politburo, which sits just one level below The Committee. They also tend to be high performers with executive experience who have governed several provinces, similar to the US system where governors tend to have good prospects for becoming future presidents.
During the 19th Party Congress, two current members—Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang—will remain but five will be replaced by a new cohort. For more details, take a look at the three different scenarios for The Committee’s potential composition, each of which we’ve analyzed in detail and assigned a probability. Although there is a small possibility that The Committee could shrink to just five members, we have not included such a scenario because we believe it to be highly unlikely.