Okay. First and foremost – I could get into trouble for
writing this. Why? Because it’s about the nine men who run this world.
No, I mean really run it. The men who’re going to shape our future. For
good or ill.
So who am I talking about? Rupert Murdoch? Donald Trump?
No. That’s just laughable, surely? I mean… can anyone
who’s witnessed the last few days in Washington, as the Democrats and
Republicans go head to head on the Hill about who controls the purse
strings of America still believe that he’s the most powerful man on
No. The nine I’m thinking of have none of Obama’s funding
problems. When they make a decision the funds are there, available,
immediately they need it, for whatever they need it for. And no
questions asked. After all, they’re just swimming in cash… in liquidity. Not to mention manpower.
Okay. You’ve guessed it. They have to be Chinese. And if
they’re Chinese they have to be the nine who are in ultimate control of
China and its governance. The politburo.
Now, before I come to them, let me say one or two things.
Working on Chung Kuo these past twenty eight years, I’ve come to admire the
Chinese greatly, and I genuinely love the richness and the
extraordinary depth of Chinese culture. They are truly a fascinating
people, with an equally fascinating history. Two thousand years ago,
back when the West was still a collection of mud huts and hill forts,
China had a single city, Chang An, that housed more than a million
people, not to mention possessing levels of technology that we were to
take another fifteen hundred years to re-discover.
All of which is to say that it is not the Chinese people
that I am critical of, but the form of government China presently has
and the self-protective nature of that government. I wish I could
praise it uncritically for all the good things it has done –
particularly for raising half a billion Chinese from poverty.
But alongside the positives are massive human negatives. Negatives that the Nine would prefer not to discuss. Indeed, would – if they had their way – ban altogether from discussion.
Because China, for all that it is now one of our greatest
trading partners, is NOT a free society.
Oh yes, but you know that, don’t you. Tibet and all that.
The public executions. The persecution of academics. Tiananmen Square.
And so on.
Only… our perceptions of China have altered these past
ten/fifteen years. Tibet is still a bit of an issue, and freedom of
speech and humanitarian rights are something most visiting dignitaries
raise, but when you ask anyone whether they consider China a threat,
the answer’s generally no. You see, people believe that by trading with
the Chinese we’ll break down all the walls that previously existed
between us. That the Chinese will come to like blue jeans and rock and
roll and McDonalds and all that other stuff, and that they’ll realize
that the western way of life is actually rather nice. Something they
want to emulate. I mean… why else are they buying up all of our
whiskey? And with four hundred million middle class Chinese wanting all
that stuff, things will have to change.
But will they? Will the Nine allow that?
Personally, I hope that’s what happens. That the
attraction of a western lifestyle – complete with its freedoms for the
individual – will seduce the Chinese people (and especially the Chinese
middle classes) so that change will ultimately have to come.
Only right now I don’t believe that. It’s what I’d like –
what I pray for – but it’s not my gut instinct. My gut instinct is that
the Nine will hang on to power, making whatever small changes they need
to, but no more. Keeping the peasants on the land happy, for instance,
by giving them limited education opportunities, limited health care,
limited… well, limited everything. While the middle
classes in China will be allowed to keep their expensive toys and their
distractions. But no real rights. Not in the sense that Westerners have
Foremost the right to criticize. To have a free press
that can investigate corruption and malpractice in government. A press
that can, without fear, expose those who are using the power they have
for their own selfish purposes.
As it is, China is a system that would sooner repress
than discuss; sooner incarcerate than debate. And at the summit of this
system is the Politburo, the very instrument through which government
in China functions.
Which brings me back to my Nine men. The real life
equivalent of my Seven. Who are they, and where did they come from? Not
only that, but who put them in power and who are likely to replace them?
Big questions, all of those, and I’ve only time to answer
some of them this time round. So let me introduce the Nine: the current
members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist party of
Well, first of all let me tell you something. The nine
are ranked. Like so many things in Chinese life, there’s an established
order, even among these “equals”. A hierarchy. Because China has always
been hierarchical. That’s its nature. So let’s begin with number nine.
Number nine is Zhou Yongkang, 68 years old and
a native of Wuxi in Jiangsu province. That’s midway between Nanjing and
Shanghai. A graduate of the petroleum (oil) sector, he was Secretary of
the Communist Party in Sichuan province (China’s biggest and richest
province) from 1998 through to 2008. Seen as a reformer – particularly
of China’s police force – he is the man who has ultimate authority over
the state’s security forces, so whilst ranked ninth, he’s actually more
powerful than he seems.
At number eight is He Guoqiang, a 67 year old from Xiangxiang in Hunan Province (which
is in the south central area of China). His title on the Politburo is
“head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection”, but he’s
basically charged with the task of stamping out corruption among the
At number seven we have Li Keqiang, the First-ranked Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic.
He’s almost my age, 56 this month, and comes from Anhui Province in
central China. A graduate at law, he became Communist Youth League
Secretary at Peking University. A good friend of General Secretary Hu
Jintao (we’ll come to him) he’s an outspoken advocate of economic
development and was China’s youngest ever Governor (of Henan Province)
at the age of 43. Word has it that he is being groomed to replace Hu
Jintao as Premier. My view of this man is that he’s forward-looking and
– more important – outward-looking. Certainly one to watch.
Okay. Number six is Xi Jinping, 58 years old and the son of Communist veteran Xi
A native of Beijing, he too is being groomed, it’s said,
as a possible replacement of Hu Jintao as premier. Unlike Li Keqiang,
however, his family has a rich Communist tradition, his father having
formed the Communist guerilla movement in Shaanxi Province in Northern
China, in the war against Japan. A Chemical Engineering student, he has
worked as secretary for the central Military Commission. Another
advocate of the free market economy, he is well-known for having
encouraged investment from Taiwan to neighbouring Fujian, where he was
the Governor. Oh, and, incidentally, it was Xi who was in charge of the
Summer Olympics in 2008. He’s my tip to succeed Hu Jintao.
At number five we have Li Changchun, the 67-year old Propaganda Chief of the Communist Party
of China, who was born in Liaoning Province in the North. A supporter
of Zhao Ziyang, his fortunes dipped after Tiananmen, but he redeemed
himself with his pursuit of corruption amongst Party members in
Guangdong in the 1990s, and became the youngest ever member of the
Politburo when he was appointed in 1998 (aged 44). Is this the man
behind China’s computer hacking?
At number four we have yet another engineering graduate
in Jia Qinglin, the 71-year-old seventh Chairman of the CPPCC, largely
a ceremonial role. The least powerful of the nine, Jia has been given
the job of coordinating policy on Taiwan.
Number three is the ever-smiling Wen Chia-pao, 68-years old and the leading figure behind China’s
economic policy. A qualified Geologist, he took office as Premier in
2003, and along with Hu Jintao is a key member of the fourth generation
of leadership in the Communist party of China. “Soft spoken and known
for his strong work ethic” it reads here, but I’d guess that this is
the man that makes China’s economy purr. He has a reputation for
meticulousness and will be a hard man to replace when his time is up.
His survival of the purge that followed Tiananmen (where he was a key
supporter of Zhao Ziyang) says much for his character and his talent at
And so we come to number two, Wu Bangguo, the 70-year old Chairman and Party secretary of the
Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Another native of
Anhui, he graduated as an engineer (what else?) but rose to national
fame through his work as party chief of Shanghai. He has been on the
Politburo since 1992 and served under Premier Li Peng.
Number one, of course, is Hu Jintao, the Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China,
replacing Jiang Zemin in 2004 as the top leader of the fourth
generation leadership of the Communist Party of China. A native of
Jiangsu, Hu was a gifted student at school and joined the Communist
Party in 1964 (aged 21) before the Cultural Revolution. Graduating in
hydraulic engineering (what else?) he climbed the ranks of the Party,
supported by Deng Xiaoping himself. However, all didn’t always go
swimmingly for the younger Hu and he found himself sent to Tibet in the
late eighties. What subsequently happened in Lhasa in March 1989 has
never properly been revealed.
Hu’s fortunes changed again, however, in 1992, when, with
the encouragement of Deng Xiaoping (who wished to ensure a smooth
transition from the second-generation leades to the third), Hu was
promoted to the then seven man Politburo (just before his fiftieth
birthday) as representative of the future generation, Hu (as fourth
generation) taking his place among the third generation leaders.
Hu’s aim as leader is to create a Harmonious Society. Top
use ‘soft power’ to achieve his aims. It might serve to remember,
however, that aside from being President of China, he is also Chairman
of the Central Military Commission. Newsweek and Forbes have both named Hu the
second most powerful person in the world, but from where I sit I reckon
he’s got a lot more clout than Obama. And all he has to do is get a
consensus of his fellow Nine. Forget all of that wheeler-dealing that
goes on on Capitol Hill. These Nine agree on something and it gets
done. Because like the emperors of old, their word is all it needs.
Fleets of aircraft carriers… fleets of spacecraft… massive armies…
So there they are. I’d sure love to be a fly on the wall
when they met. To see such power at work. Need a new city? New
high-speed train? All those in favour…
But wait, you’re saying. These are just nine men. Each
one of them easy to topple or replace if they fall out of line. And
that’s so. Only these are guys who’ve fought their way up through the
seemingly endless ranks of one of the toughest political organizations
in the world – the Chinese Communist party. Men who’ve survived the
worst their enemies and rivals could throw at them to attain those
heights. And as nine men they’re so much stronger than one. One bamboo
stalk can be easily snapped, but nine in a bunch?
So believe me. There’s your nine, even if, in five years
time, they’ll have different names, wear different faces. Because not
only do they have the resources, they have the will to carry out
whatever project favours China.
Let’s just hope they’re both tough and fair. That the
nine men who form the next generation of leaders - generation five -
have the vision and the compassion to see that the West can be embraced.