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The art and science of China-watching

Even sinologists cannot claim to know all that goes on in Beijing politics

Published on Nov 3, 2012 12:00 PM

BEIJING - Once every five years, right at about this time, much of China and the China-watching world crank up a game of political punditry ahead of the country's leadership reshuffle.

The objective is to predict, or at least make an educated guess about, who will be among the select handful of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders to fill the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the apex council that effectively rules China.

Who these leaders are matters. After all, they govern the world's most populous country and second-largest economy as well as control the world's largest standing military with nuclear weapons capability. But this game is incredibly frustrating. Even expert China-watchers cannot claim to know everything about what goes on in the rarefied world of Zhongnanhai politics.

As The Economist said in a commentary recently: "Genuine knowledge of the handful of men who rule the country... is as rare as the Chinese unicorn."

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