Hu Jintao

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIJING — Months of sharp behind-the-scenes jostling reach a climax Thursday with the announcement of a new Chinese leadership that almost regardless of its makeup is likely to be much like the one it replaces: divided, deliberative and weak.

All but officially announced, Xi Jinping is expected to head the new leadership as Communist Party chief, joined by Li Keqiang, the presumptive prime minster, in a choreographed succession that began five years ago when the two were anointed as successors. Alongside them at the apex of power, the Politburo Standing Committee, will be a handful of senior politicians drawn from top positions in the provinces and bureaucracies.

Their ascent was nudged along Wednesday when a weeklong party congress closed by naming Xi, Li and the other leading candidates to the Central Committee, a 205-member body which appoints the new leadership Thursday. Left off the list was Hu Jintao, who is retiring as party chief after 10 years. A top general told reporters that Hu is also relinquishing his sole remaining powerful post, as head of the military, a significant break from the past that would give Xi leeway to establish his authority.

Leadership lineups typically strike a balance between different interest groups in the 82 million-member party. None of the new leaders owe their positions to Xi, but to other political patrons. Decisions are made largely by consensus, forcing Xi to bargain with his colleagues who have their own allegiances and power bases. Party elders, with Hu being the newest, exert influence over major policies through their proteges, further constraining Xi.

While China’s leadership may have an image in the rest of the world as decisive and all-powerful, the reality is that decision-making tends to be a slow-going affair.

“It’s a power game,” said Zheng Yongnian, a China politics expert at the National University of Singapore. “The Standing Committee doesn’t function well. They all have to agree, and there are too many checks on each other, so nothing gets done.”

If not gridlock, the incremental, step-by-step policy-making of the past comes as China confronts slowing growth, a cavernous rich-poor gap and a clamor for change, in protests and on the Internet, for better government and curbing corruption and the privileges of the politically connected elite.

A Tibetan man, identified as Jampa Yeshi, screams as he runs engulfed in flames after self-immolating at a protest in New Delhi, India, ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the country Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW DELHI — A Tibetan exile lit himself on fire and ran shouting through a demonstration in the Indian capital Monday, just before a visit by China’s president and following dozens of self-immolations done in China in protest of its rule over Tibet.

Indian police swept through the New Delhi protest a few hours later, detaining scores of Tibetans.

The man apparently had doused himself with something highly flammable and was engulfed in flames when he ran past the podium where speakers were criticizing Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit.

Fellow activists beat out the flames with Tibetan flags and poured water onto him. He was on fire perhaps less than two minutes, but some of his clothing had disintegrated and his skin was mottled with black, burned patches by the time he was driven to a hospital.

About 30 such protests have occurred over the past year in ethnic Tibetan areas of China, and a Tibetan self-immolated last year in India, where many exiles reside. Beijing has blamed the Dalai Lama and called the actions a form of terrorism.

Tibetans inside China and exiles say China’s crackdown on Tibetan regions is so oppressive, those who choose such a horrific form of protest feel they have no other way to express their beliefs.China says Tibet has always been part of its territory. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries. Many of the protesters who have self-immolated in China are Buddhist monks or nuns, often in their teens or early 20s.

The origin of this form of protest is unclear. Some activists see inspiration from the Arab Spring protests, set off by a Tunisian fruit seller’s self-immolation. Others see historical examples among Buddhist monks: those who protests Vietnam’s crackdowns in the 1960s and Chinese in the last imperial dynasty.

The economic summit Hu will be attending this week involves the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, who form a grouping known as BRICS.

Police in New Delhi were already bracing for protests by the tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles who live in India. Security around the summit location has been tightened, and roads leading to the hotel will be closed to the public a day ahead of the meeting.

Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the Delhi police, did not know how long the protesting Tibetans would be held, or how many had been taken into custody., holding Tibetan protesters normally up to one day — often to stop further embarrassing Indian authorities during Chinese visits — though detainees legally can be held for up to one week.

Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Man immolated self for Tibet

China’s rising prominence is likely to encourage greater enrollment of UT students in study abroad programs to the country, said Tracy Dahlby, the journalism professor with the Reporting China Maymester program.

The growing interest among UT students coincides with the Obama administration’s goal of doubling the number of students studying abroad in the largest Asian country by 2014. First lady Michelle Obama also stressed student travel to China at a Wednesday speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C., which came shortly after the Obamas welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao at a state dinner at the White House.

Currently, 18 UT students are enrolled in the 2011 Maymester program, which runs from May to June. Dahlby said he expects student interest in China to increase because of general curiosity and the country’s greater presence in the professional world.

Dahlby said study abroad programs help young individuals understand the relationship between the United States and rising superpowers. He said the programs are long-term investments, not institutions designed to generate immediate results.

“We won’t see the exact shape of things to come,” he said. “But we can see the vector.”
He said China is emerging as a world superpower because of its technological and economic expansion.

Foreign exchange programs allow students to view different nations and cultures on an individual level in lieu of viewing different countries on a collective level, Dahlby said.

“Study abroad programs are beneficial because it gives students the opportunity to experience different countries and cultural values,” said Tommy Ward, China program coordinator of UT’s International Office.

Multimedia journalism and economics senior Simrat Sharma, who participated in the China Maymester in 2009, said she gained experience in the country by witnessing different cultural interactions.

Sharma said Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington, D.C. signified improvement in the often strained relationship between the U.S. and China.

“Simply engaging in talks is a great step into U.S.-China relations,” Sharma said.

Advertising junior Suchada Sutasirisap said she saw the changing nature of China as well as its traditional roots when she studied there in fall 2010.

“In a city like Shanghai, there is a mix of Chinese and Western culture,” Sutasirisap said. “It is a very developed city but you also see people hanging clothes. In some ways, you see China is still China.”