For my second DC event I went to George Washington for a discussion on China’s leadership transition. The speaker was Christopher Johnson, a chair of China studies at CSIS and a former analyst at the CIA. After a brief introduction he started his discussion. He started off simply discussing the apparent result of the most recent party congress. He addressed some of the more widely discussed topics, especially the influence of Jiang Zemin. He also discussed the lack of reformists on the standing committee. While he acknowledged that this sent discouraging signals he made the counter argument that since the committee does not seem to have any major ideological fault lines it means it has a greater opportunity accomplish its goals.
After discussing the transition itself he moved onto the effects the personnel changes would have on China’s policy. In terms of economic and political reform the latter is less likely to occur. If anything changes it is likely to be in the form of some intraparty democratization or some small tweaks to the system. With economic reforms he argues that as a princeling Xi Jinping may have the credibility to tackle some of the most egregious forms of corruptions such as land grabs by local officials. Later Johnson discussed some of the problems with provincial and local authorities. Afterwards he talked about the changing status of the PLA and the extent of military corruption.
After discussing the military he segued into foreign affairs. Here he discussed the difficulties of Sino-Japanese relations in recent years and the reasons for their decline. Johnson also tried to explain why the Chinese government has been moving to embrace the North Korean government more since 2008. He then finalized his analysis by discussing the future of relations between the US and China. While the Chinese government was slightly relieved with Obama’s reelection there is a degree of uncertainty as many administration officials leave. However, he did not predict any major changes in the near future.
After he was done speaking Johnson opened up a question and answer session. The first questions dealt with perennial issues such as Taiwan and Tibet. On the former he felt not much would change soon since the current KMT government has overseen a relatively stable period of cross straight relations. On Tibet he was surprisingly optimistic since Xi and his father have had a history of being fairly moderate on this issue. The remaining questions mostly regarded specific officials or certain details of the transition such as Xi’s brief disappearance. After these had been addressed the moderator made some closing remarks as the conference wound down.