More scientists In New China leadership: A Model For 4th Industrial Revolution?

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WHILE the world focused on the re-election of President Xi Jinping to the unprecedented third term as Party secretary general and the lineup of senior leaders, the significance of more scientists elected to the senior leadership position is mostly missed.

One of the most watched political events in the world in 2022 is the October 20 Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The focus reflects the country’s importance to the global economy, which accounted for more than 30 percent of global growth in the past decade. In addition, the world is watching how the country reacts to the increasingly bifurcated world dominated by geopolitical rivalries between the US and China. International observers are keen to know whether the new leadership lineup represents a new ruling philosophy for the next five years.

Increasing number of scientists in the Politburo, central committee

Out of the 24 members of the Politburo, at least six boast academic or senior professional qualifications in science and technology, including lunar science, nuclear power and environmental protection. This is a significant increase from only one in the 2017 Congress.

For the central committee, 29 members from the Chinese Academy of Science and Chinese Academy of Engineering were in the cohort of 376. These two academies have 1,831 members and represent the cream of the Chinese sciences. The number almost doubled the 15 members in the 2012 Congress and 25 in the 2017 Congress. One hundred eighty-six members, or 49.5 percent of the Central Committee, hold an advanced professional degree or post-collegiate education. The trend resonates with the drive to get more high intellectuals, particularly scientists, to participate in governance, a version of historic Chinese meritocracy.

China power structure

The CCP is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution as the ruling party. The Communist Party has 96.7 million members as of September 2022. It is the second largest political party in the world, with a membership next to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of India, which claimed 190 million members in 2019. CCP holds Congress once every five years to elect new leadership.

In this year’s 20th Congress, 2,296 national delegates elected 205 central committee members and 171 alternate members. These 376 central committee members elected 24 political bureau members (Politburo) among themselves, which in turn selected seven members of the standing committee of the Politburo.

The seven politburo standing committee members are headed by Secretary General Xi, who also serves as the President of the Republic. The rest became prime ministers, heads of the legislature and other critical organs of the State. Other politburo members become leaders of important local governments such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, and vice premiers in the central government. The rest of the Central Committee members are assigned as heads across different government ministries and provinces; one can say that the central committee represents the pinnacle of power in China.

Challenges of the time

Today, some of China’s main challenges are country-specific, and some are part of a global trend facing all countries. Foremost in the country-specific challenges is the decoupling drive of the United States when it decided that China is the “peer competitor” and instituted a technological embargo on the flow of technologies to China. There is also the reorientation of growth drivers away from more volatile sectors, such as real estate and export, to more sustainable innovation-led domestic consumption.

And, of course, the geopolitical tension over the containment policy is also high on people’s minds. President Xi aptly describes the next five years as an “unparalleled complexity” time.

Other pressing challenges common to other countries are climate change and the necessary but costly mitigation measures needed. For example, China has committed to peak carbon emission in 2030 and zero carbon by 2060; moving away from fossil fuel that has dominated the industrial era since the 18th century is entury is neither easy nor straightforward.

Globalization has driven global growth in the past 40 years, and the attempt to modify the supply chain on national security grounds will hurt economic efficiency worldwide. The sum of world export and import as a percentage of GDP has increased from 37.1 percent in 1980 to 60.1 percent in 2012. The number dropped to 57.2 percent in 2021.

The diffusion of knowledgeand technologies across countries makes complete deglobalization an impossibility, but partial deglobalization or globalization slowdown likely gets more losers than winners among countries.

A model for the new era? Scientists govern!

In this threshold era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, many problems, such as climate change and improving domestic productivity to drive growth, require new innovative, scientific approaches for their resolutions. Yet, in most countries, senior state leaders reflect the political choice of the people or the political parties with little scientific community participation.

China announced that it aims to grow in a high-quality, sustainable way to become a leading country in the middle of the century. The new CCP leadership now counts one of the highest ratios of scientists in the world.

Their participation in the high echelon of government sends not only a signal that the country intends to develop resilience even from a tech squeeze. It could also mean an attempt to emphasize hard science-driven decisions making processes more than politically motivated state actions in the future.

There is a popular saying in China: “Science is universal, but scientists have countries.” The statement emphasizes the universality of science and still, the patriotism of the scientist are not incompatible. The high percentage of scientists in the senior leadership is a guarantee that the country will stay open to the world as these people know the country’s strengths and weaknesses more than any other group of people in the country.

Will the Chinese experiment bring a new model to the world with more scientists involved in public policymaking and bring better governance? We can probably know better when the next Party Congress is held in 2027.


Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

similar version was published in Manila Times on November 6 2022. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (idsicenter@gmail.com)

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