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China leadership transition formally edges forward

BEIJING: China’s leadership transition officially edged ahead Saturday, with the executive body of the Communist Party Congress forwarding a list of names to congress delegates for review.
State media reported that the congress’s presidium, 41 current and former members of the leadership, approved the candidate list for the Central Committee and sent it to the delegates. The delegates will cast votes before the congress closes Wednesday to choose the Central Committee, a roughly 350-member body.
The Central Committee, in turn, will select the top leadership.
The move is largely a formality, as is the congress itself. Deciding the lineup of leading bodies falls to a small group of powerbrokers.
Vice President Xi Jinping has been all-but formally announced to replace President Hu Jintao as party chief and president.
China Central Television showed Hu addressing the meeting of the presidium, which was presided over by Xi.
Candidates for the Central Committee outnumber seats by only a small portion, giving the 2,268 congress delegates little choice except on the margins.
In addition to the name list for Central Committee members, the meeting also forwarded candidate lists for the party’s internal watchdog agency, state media reported.
While ties between China and Taiwan may be closer than at any time since they split in a civil war, the staid, formal Communist Party congress highlights how far apart the two sides are politically.
“Taiwan’s democracy has learned from the United States,” said Wang Yingying, who moved from eastern China to Taiwan in 2005 with her Taiwanese spouse. “We in China cannot vote for our national leaders. Mainland politics are backward, Taiwan’s democracy is much better.” With a population 50 times bigger and an economy 15 times greater, China overshadows Taiwan in almost every respect. But one area where Taiwan is envied by many in China is its freewheeling political system.
Split since Mao Zedong’s Communist forces drove Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government from the mainland, China and Taiwan used to engage in a propaganda and ideological war against each other. Since Taiwan jettisoned one-party rule in the 1980s and moved toward democracy, the competition for hearts and minds continues but is more low-key.
“There is now no excuse for the Chinese government to tell its people that Chinese culture is somehow at odds with democracy,” said Emile Sheng, who served as culture minister during Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s just-completed first term. “Taiwan’s experience proves this wrong.”

Stepped-up trade and travel between China and Taiwan as well as a revival in longstanding cultural and social ties are all carrying Taiwan’s success with democracy to mainlanders. Wang, the mainlander bride, is one of 300,000 Chinese spouses living in Taiwan. More than 2 million Chinese tourists travel to Taiwan every year, often holing up in their hotels to watch Taiwan’s many politically relentless all-news television stations.
China’s ruling Communists continue to hail their model as superior, noting its state-directed economy has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in recent decades and government policies have warded off the recession and weak growth that have wracked the West during the past four years. In his opening speech to the congress Thursday, President Hu Jintao said China would never adopt a Western-style political system.
“There is a contest of ideology between China and Taiwan,” said political scientist George Tsai of Taipei’s Chinese Culture University. “It is dictatorship versus democracy. Many people are wondering if Taiwan’s model of democracy is appropriate for China’s future.”