Personnel Watch: What’s Next for Hunan Legislature Delegate Wang Qishan?

On Jan. 29, Wang Qishan, the former anti-corruption chief and Politburo Standing Committee member, was listed as one of the 118 Hunan legislators named as delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC).

The backdrop:
1. In 2017, Wang participated in the 19th Party Congress as a delegate from Hunan Province.

2. Wang emerged from the 19th Congress without a Party post.

Why it matters: Wang’s appointment to the Chinese legislature greatly raises the chances of his taking on a state job.

Our take:
1. We wrote on Oct. 18 and Oct. 24 that Wang Qishan could head the National Supervisory Commission, or even become vice president and handed a diplomatic portfolio at the Two Sessions meeting in March. Wang’s appointment to the NPC strengthens our earlier analysis.

2. In our Jan. 26 in-depth article, we argue that an impending U.S.-China trade war could compel Xi Jinping to appoint Wang Qishan as vice president to handle U.S.-China relations and mitigate dangers.

3. If Wang does become vice president or takes on other state positions, this would once again affirm our observation that Xi had observed two key actions in reshuffling officials at the 19th Congress. (See our Oct. 10 brief.)

3.1. Xi’s two key actions are:

Fully consolidate power while resisting interference by Party elders and the collective leadership system.
Keep close ally Wang Qishan in office to preserve the results of the anti-corruption campaign and maintain its momentum for the next five years.

The political group which opposes Xi, the Jiang Zemin faction, is aware of Xi’s motives, and worked to disrupt his authority and block Wang Qishan from staying in office.

3.2. The outcome of the 19th Congress was a mix of two scenarios which we felt was most probable: Xi became a “General Secretary Plus” and “Xi Jinping Thought” was added to the Party constitution, but Wang Qishan didn’t keep a Party post.

(Our five 19th Congress scenarios include one where Wang is excluded from the top leadership. The seven Politburo Standing Committee members which we predicted in that scenario are now actual Standing Committee members.)

After the 19th Congress, various intelligence and sources revealed that there was an intense debate within the Party on the issue of whether or not Wang Qishan should remain in office. If Wang kept a Party post, the Jiang faction was adamant that Xi should increase the Politburo Standing Committee membership to 11 from seven and add more Politburo members—a development that would correspond with our forecast of an enlarged Politburo. Ultimately, this scenario didn’t pan out.

3.3. Based on the 19th Congress results, we believe that the Xi-Jiang struggle was very intense at the time and Wang was the central target of the Jiang faction. The sudden halt of an overseas smear campaign against Wang is an indication that Xi compromised on the issue of keeping Wang Qishan in a Party post. In exchange for giving up Wang, Xi was able to add his political thought to the Party charter and state constitution, and further his power consolidation.

Xi, however, likely never gave up on keeping Wang around in an official position. Intelligence about Wang becoming the next Chinese vice president and tasked with handling U.S.-China relations started surfacing after the 19th Congress. Increasing pressure from the U.S. on trade and other national security issues could present Xi with a bargaining chip to bring Wang back in the political game.

3.4. We believe that Xi had always intended to retain Wang’s services, but had to back down at the 19th Congress because he faced very stiff opposition. Changing circumstances, however, could allow Xi to out manoeuvre his rivals and bring back his most trusted ally.