China's political power struggle could affect us all

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

China's Premier Wen Jiabao. Credit: REUTERS/Carl Court/POOL

The Reuters news agency is quoting sources suggesting that the once in a decade leadership reshuffle may be delayed.

Why? Because the article suggests there are power struggles over who should fill the seats on the powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo. China's ruling body.

This, if confirmed, would be the clearest and most worrying sign that the fall out from the sacking of Bo Xilai is causing friction behind the stage managed shows of solidarity that you see when China's leaders are on show.

Bo Xilai was a rising star in Chinese politics. He was the Party chief of Chongqing, a massive sprawling metropolis in South West China.

In April, when his wife was accused of murdering a British Businessman, Neil Heywood, who used to be their family friend, Bo's fate was sealed.

The powerful party boss was stripped of party positions and his rise became a fall. Bo had been considered a dead cert for a seat on the standing committee.

We have already picked up signs that there's a scrap over who should fill that seat between two factions within the Chinese leadership. The 'reformers' and the 'conservatives' have been battling it out.

It is like a coalition at the top of Chinese politics, but it makes the Nick and Dave marital squabbles look like a teenage spat.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron. Credit: REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool

If this power struggle gets out of hand we are all in trouble because China is providing a large chunk of global GDP, about 40%.

If there is fall out at the top here, markets around the world will come tumbling down as well. That will be our pensions and investments in free-fall.

China's leaders are very mysterious, shrouded in state secrecy. The only public signal of a spat was back in March at a remarkable and final press conference with Premier Wen Jiabao.

Grandpa Wen, as he is sometimes know, is allied to the 'reformers' and he warned that unless there was reform China could slip back into the "cultural revolution" days. A clear warning to the hard line 'conservatives' not to block political progress.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao. Credit: REUTERS/Carl Court

So the reason for the delay, if it happens? Seems to be over how many seats there will be on the Standing Committee, at the moment there are 9, used to be 5, now one side is wanting 11, presumably to have more younger politicians and more views expressed.

The other side, the 'conservatives' want to have 7, a step back towards a smaller more power focussed body.

Delaying this generational reshuffle would alarm economies and frighten the US.

It would also be a very public loss of face at the top of a society which values 'face' and avoids public power struggles. After all the current leadership's mantra is a "harmonious society", so they had better not be out of tune.

You could say there's a coalition.