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China unveils its next generation of leaders

Meet the men at the helm of Chinese politics.

On Thursday, China unveiled the next generation of leaders who will make up its seven-member Politburo Standing Committee – the powerful body that effectively runs the country.

The line-up was ostensibly elected by more than 2,000 delegates of the Communist Party Congress, though the men were essentially hand-picked well in advance by a small contingent of Party elders.


Xi Jingping (age 59):

Xi will head the Politburo after being elected today as the Chinese Communist Party’s new leader and the commander-in-chief of the Chinese Military. The 59-year-old is expected to be named president in March, replacing the incumbent Hu Jintao.

Xi is one of the Politburo’s four “princelings”. A privileged son born to a former party leader, Xi was condemned  countryside impoverishment after his father was purged from the party during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

Upon its end, Xi studied engineering at Tsinghua university before landing his first job assisting a top Chinese general. From there, he rose through the ranks to briefly govern Shanghai.

Since 2007, Xi served as vice president, but his discreet, soft-spoken nature has revealed little in the way of how he plans to handle both China’s economy and the prospect of reform.

Trivia shot: He is married to the popular folk singer Peng Liyuan, who has ironically enjoyed more of the spotlight than her husband throughout the bulk of their marriage. His daughter studies under a pseudonym at Harvard University.


Li Keqiang (age 57):

Initially earmarked for the presidency, Li Keqiang will succeed Wen Jiabao as the Communist Party’s Premier in March, a position that will see him take the reigns of China’s mammoth economy.

Born into more humble surroundings, Li’s career has seen him rise from manual labour in Anhui Province to the elite ranks of Chinese Politics. Along the way, he earned a PhD in economics and developed an impressive command of the English language, rendering him one of the few fluent party leaders.

Rumoured to be a cautious reformer, his modest roots have earned him a reputation for being sympathetic towards China’s lower classes, but his ultimate attitude towards reform is not fully known.

A former understudy to Hu Jintao, Li became China’s youngest ever governor after taking the helm in Henan province in 1999.

Trivia shot: Allegedly, Li read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” before he left primary school. According to a leaked US cable, his hobbies include walking and Oklahoma (seriously). 


Liu Yunshan (Age 65): 

The conservative Liu heads the Party’s notorious propaganda department, which is responsible for the country’s internet and media censorship.

A former reporter for Xinhua – a state news agency –  the 65-year-old is thought to have been behind the country’s “Great Firewall”, which places significant constraints on China’s 500 million internet users.

Trivia shot: Liu ran the campaign that forced Google’s exit from China in 2010.


Zhang Dejiang (Age 65):

Zhang will serve as the vice premier in charge of energy and telecommunications.

With a reputation for being a conservative “trouble-shooter”, Zhang was drafted in to serve as party chief of Chongqing to replace the disgraced Bo Xilai – a former front-runner for the Politburo who slid into ignominy after his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman earlier this year. 

The son of Chinese major-general, Zhang has been a member of the expanded Politburo for over a decade, taking two years out to study economics in North Korea.

Trivia shot: As party secretary in Guangdong, Zhang came under considerable fire in 2002, after failing to respond adequately to a vicious outbreak of SARS.

Wang Qishan (Age 64):

A famed economist, Wang has been curiously named the head of the Party's Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Revered for his financial and economic nouse, Wang become one of China’s most distinguished politicians after unravelling a multi-billion dollar banking crisis in Guangdong and successfully dealing with the SARS epidemic whilst serving as mayor of Beijing.

Popular amongst Western leaders, former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson once described the dynamic reformer as “decisive and inquisitive, with a wicked sense of humour”.

The son of a top party official, Wang is one of the four "princelings" in China’s top brass.

Trivia shot: As mayor of Beijing, Wang took a central role in the organisation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


Zhang Gaoli (Age 65):

As a financial reformer and an advocate of greater foreign investment, the current party chief of Tianjin has turned the northeast port into a shipping powerhouse since his appointment.

After training as a statistician, Zhang worked in the oil industry throughout the majority of the 1970s and 1980s, before taking the top post in the industrial city of Shenzhen; a city famed for its wealth and technological advancement.

Trivia shot: After being sent to clean up Tianjin, Zhang’s arrival in the city hit an early snag as a top adviser to the city’s lawmaking body committed suicide.


Yu Zhengsheng (Age 67) :

Chosen to lead the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, Yu Zhengsheng is one of the Politburo’s more low key members.

A trained engineer and a former construction minister, Yu eventually rose through the ranks to become the party boss of Shanghai – China’s financial centre and its most cosmopolitan city.

Another “princeling”, Yu was raised by a journalist mother after the death of his father at age 12.

Trivia Shot: After an forging an impeccable early pedigree within the party, Lu drastically fell out of favour in the mid-1980s when his brother – an intelligence official – defected to the United States. His close affiliation with the son of former Chinese leader – Deng Xiaoping – narrowly spared his place in the party.

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The Conversation