NEW CHINESE LEADER FACES TOUGH CHOICES IN SEEKING BREAKTHROUGH REFORMS

Manoranjan Mohanty

 

General Secretary of the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee Xi Jinping’s early performance has created positive vibrations in China and abroad. However, on some crucial issues, the extent of Xi’s new policies has yet to be evaluated.

 

The top leader has highlighted his anti-corruption drive as a major policy initiative.

 

New eight-point guidelines have been issued by the Party. In 2012, nearly 73,000 people were punished for corruption or dereliction of duty, a total of 4,698 county-level cadres or higher-level cadres were punished by the Party’s discipline watchdogs, and 961 cadres at the county-level or above were handed over to the judicial organs.¬† All these show that the Party takes the anti-corruption seriously. However, the approach to fighting corruption is still not clear.

 

Like his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi too treats corruption as a governance issue rather than a structural issue. But despite prosecuting high officials and meting out harsh punishment after summary trials, corruption continues to grow because its structural roots are still not addressed.

 

As long as the growth-centric economic strategy requires high profit by entrepreneurs and managers in a liberalized and discretionary system which uses networks of lobbying by all kinds of means to secure contracts for manufacture and trade, the scope for corruption will persist.

 

While governance measures such as a transparent work style, an independent institutional system of checks and strict enforcement of law are essential. These should be accompanied by a rule-based economy and morally motivated society.

 

This is the lesson from both developed and developing countries where corruption remains a serious issue.

 

Even though the 18th CPC National Congress clearly ruled out China adopting a Western-style democracy, there is no indication of the kind of democracy that the Party is trying to evolve.

 

The current political system may have facilitated economic growth, but it does not respond to the protests among workers, farmers, youth and minorities.

 

More than half of the mass incidents arose out of land rights issues, and the rest related to labor disputes, environment and governance issues.

 

Mixed signals during the past few weeks include tightened regulation of press and microblog sites and the top leader’s open invitation for offering frank criticism.

 

Will the top leader give a concrete direction to democratic change by raising the level of competitive elections from the village to the township and county levels and giving them statutory power of self-governance?

 

On the economic front, Xi is on enormous pressure to resume the high growth path rather than change the growth model, so as to reduce the widening income gap, regional disparity and pollution. The recent smog in Beijing was a good reminder of that objective.

 

The emphasis on promoting domestic consumption and reducing the dependence on foreign trade is no doubt desirable.

 

But if that leads to catering mainly to the demands of the upper strata, then the prevailing social problems would be exacerbated.

 

It should be remembered that China was one of the least unequal societies in the world in 1982, with a Gini coefficient of 0.3. But it had become one of the most unequal in 2012, with a Gini coefficient of 0.47.

 

The new production strategy has to address the rural problems, meet the demands of the over 200 million floating population and generate employment.

 

Finally, the emerging global role of China is debated all over the world today. Having become the second largest world economy and gaining high prestige in world scale, China has two sets of options as a global power.

 

One is the path of the earlier big powers. The US seems to be the model for many of China’s foreign policy and security analysts, while most Chinese youth aspire to live the US way of life.

 

At the same time, the motivation guiding Chinese nationalism is to surpass US power. Currently, there is a discourse on the Chinese dream as a parallel to the discourse on the American dream.

 

The other path could make China a force for transforming the existing hegemonic, unequal, power-governed world into a democratic, equitable, consensus-driven world.

 

The top Chinese leader’s much publicized stress on the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation can work either way. However, he and his colleagues are smart enough to draw lessons from history.

 

(The author is chairperson of the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi. mmohantydu@gmail.com)

 

(Global Times, March 13, 2013)

 

COMMENTS BY WILLIAM DERE

 

(William Dere is a Chinese Canadian living in Montreal and well-versed in Chinese politics; his comments were solicited by INSAF Bulletin)

 

Very interesting article. I agree that the fight against corruption is not just a governance problem but a structural problem that allows the corruption to continue. Although the standard of living of the Chinese people has improved, the discrepancy in incomes is leading to acute class contradictions.

 

The article mentions some of the ongoing struggles to protect farmland from urban development and the on-going labour struggles for better wages and working conditions. These are classical class struggles in a country ruled by the Communist Party. This could be a theoretical question or a non-question depending on whether people see any hope of socialism in China.

 

Within the Party, there are debates around these issues and it will be interesting to see if Xi will pronounce himself on the growing class conflicts. That would bring the theory and practice of building socialism to the next stage.

 

The author brings up an interesting point¬†about China on the international stage whether China’s internationalism will “make China a force for transforming the existing hegemonic, unequal, power-governed world into a democratic, equitable, consensus-driven world.” This internationalist path would also be a reflection on their internal policies.

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