China's Communist Party revealed its new 28-member Politburo, including the new nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, on Monday at the end of its 17th National Congress. The new mandarins will steer the fate of China's 1.3 billion people for the next five years.
The new team, led by Hu Jintao who has won a second term as state and party chief, paraded in front of journalists in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday morning -- and presented an image of unity. All nine officials wore dark suits and white shirts, with all but one wearing red ties. Hu addressed a few warm words to the media, then the men, waving silently, disappeared again into the depths of the huge building. Questions were not permitted.
This group, which betrays so little individuality, is nevertheless interesting: Among the four new Standing Committee members could be the successor to Hu, who probably only has one more term, until 2012, ahead of him.
The Politburo Standing Committee, the inner circle of power, has four new members. Shanghai's party secretary Xi Jinping, 54, and the party chief from the northeastern Liaoning Province, Li Keqiang, 52, both made it into the prestigious group. The two men are the favorites to succeed Hu in the top job.
As the son of a high-up Communist Party official, the slightly older Xi is a "princeling," as the children of senior leaders are known. He gained experience in the economically important provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang before his time in Shanghai.
The younger Li clearly has Hu's confidence, because, like Hu, he was also a leader of the Communist Youth League. In his youth, Li even talked in favor of political reforms and democratic elections, according to fellow students who knew him at the time. However, no one expects that the trained lawyer and economist will turn out to be a Chinese Gorbachev.
In addition, two security experts were promoted to the illustrious circle, namely police minister Zhou Yongkang and high-ranking official He Guoqiang, who is head of the Communist Party's Organization Department. He Guoqiang is also head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, one of the most powerful organizations in China. The body, which acts as the party's internal police, is charged with rooting out serious cases of corruption among party members. None of the party's more than 70 million members can be brought to justice without its consent.
The leaders elected at the National Congress, which takes place every five years, are on average 61.2 years old -- more than four years younger than their predecessors. Two generals are now in the Politburo, one fewer than before. Women and China's national minorities are significantly underrepresented. Only one female functionary made the leap to the Communist Party leadership: Liu Yandong, 61, a lawyer from the Jiangsu region, while the popular Vice Premier Wu Yi has resigned. One member of the new Politburo belongs to the Muslim Hui minority; the others are all Han Chinese, China's majority ethnic group. The vast majority of the leadership are university graduates; most are engineers, economists or lawyers.
It is not clear who China's new vice president will be, now that the previous office holder, Zeng Qinghong, has retired. A new defense minister must also be appointed. This will likely happen at the next meeting of the National People's Congress -- China pseudo-parliament -- in next March.
Despite Monday's show of unity, the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which ended Sunday, was marked by fear and insecurity. In statistical terms, each of the 2,213 delegates had 492 guards in the form of soldiers, police and civil assistants, according to calculations made by the Beijing civil rights activist Hu Jia, who is currently under house arrest. The army was on a state of alert around the capital, while 820,000 volunteers were mobilized as security guards.
The measures reveal a "feeling of guilt" on the part of China's rulers, says Hu. Even small groups of protestors from the provinces would, in the opinion of the Communist Party, have destroyed the image of a harmonious society which it works so hard to project.