WikiLeaks: China's Politburo a cabal of business empires
China's ruling Politburo is a cabal of business empires that puts vested interests over the needs of the poor and curtails media freedoms to avoiding having shady business deals exposed in the press, according to a leaked US government diplomatic cable.
The damning description of China's secretive leadership machinations also described how the descendants of China's Communist revolutionaries – known as "princelings" – derided officials from less august revolutionary backgrounds as mere "shopkeepers".
The assessment of what motivates China's opaque top-level decision-makers was relayed to Washington in July 2009 in one of the 250,000 cables published by the WikiLeaks website.
"China's top leadership had carved up China's economic 'pie,'" the US embassy contact said, "creating an ossified system in which 'vested interests' drove decision-making and impeded reform as leaders maneuvered to ensure that those interests were not threatened." The US embassy contact also asserted there were no "reformers" within the top Communist Party leadership, only competing factions that sought to protect their business empires from attack by in-coming leaderships.
The source said that it was "well known" that former Chinese premier Li Peng and his family controlled China's "electric power interests" while the country's security tsar Zhou Yongkang controlled the state monopoly of the oil sector.
The wife of China's premier Wen Jiabao, a popular figure in China often affectionately referred to as "grandpa Wen" for his feelings for the common man, is said to control China's "precious gems" sector, while Jia Qinglin, ranked fourth in the Politburo, has "major Beijing real estate developments".
Further down the political food-chain, the desire of local officials to protect current business interests also explained China's reluctance to rein in rising inflation and take steps advocated by international economists to re-orientate its economy more towards domestic consumption.
"They [local officials] always supported fast-growth policies and opposed reform efforts that might harm their interests," the contact said, adding, "As a result, the proponents of "growth first" would always be in a stronger position than those who favored controlling inflation or taking care of the poor." The assessment also said that economic self-preservation was one of the key reasons why China's leaders were so resistant to increased media freedoms.
"Vested interests were especially inclined to oppose media openness, he [the contact] said, lest someone question the shady deals behind land transactions." China's reluctance to engage in political reform is to be highlighted this week when Liu Xiaobo, the dissident author of the Charter 08 petition for greater rights in China, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "in absentia" after being jailed in China for 11 years for challenging state power.
The perception inside China that the country is run in the interests of a Party elite is also growing, with an online poll last February by the state-run China Daily finding that more than 90pc of Chinese believed that the new rich had achieved their wealth through political connections.
The web of commercial interests also forces China's modern rulers to act by consensus, with the current President Hu Jintao likened to the "Chairman of the Board or CEO of a big corporation", juggling factional interests, unlike the autocratic figures of Mao Tse-tung or Deng Xiaoping who could rule by fiat.
The man tipped as China's next leader, Xi Jinping, was selected, not for his leadership qualities but, the contact said, because he "maintained a non-threatening low profile and had never made enemies" and could be relied upon not to wage political vendettas through anti-corruption investigations.
"The central feature of leadership politics was the need to protect oneself and one's family from attack after leaving office. Thus, current leaders carefully cultivated proteges who would defend their interests once they stepped down," the contact said.
In the past in-coming Chinese leaders have consolidated their position by instituting crackdowns, with Jiang Zemin, the former president, shutting down a number of businesses owned by the associates of his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, when he came to power in the early 1990s.
A similar process was observed in 2003 after Hu Jintao took office, with several high-level figures in Jiang Zemin's Shanghai power-base facing investigations and purges that analysts said were aimed at curtailing the power and influence of the Jiang faction.
The contact also outlined the scornful factionalism that divided the scions of the old 'red' families – those with revolutionary lineage whose fathers and grandfathers fought to bring the Communists to power in 1949 – and those who had risen up the Party ranks, so-called "shopkeepers".
China's current leaders, President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao, both fall into the latter category, while the putative next leader, 57-year-old Xi Jinping, is the son of a revolutionary hero Xi Zhongxun and often referred to as a 'princeling'.
The US embassy contact said that China's princelings felt they had a "right" to the fruits of the revolution, recalling one family deriding those without revolutionary pedigrees by saying: "While my father was bleeding and dying for China, your father was selling shoelaces".