Now The Hard Part Begins: The China Challenge (Page 2 of 3)

Xi must also be concerned with the influence of retired leaders, in particular, Jiang Zemin, 86, and Hu Jintao, 70. Jiang proved his enduring political clout by managing to put two to three of his loyalists on the committee.  Hu was less successful in appointing his supporters to the standing committee, but apparently got a good deal for “retiring naked” (quitting all positions).  Of the 15 new Politburo members, at least half are his protégés, including one 49-year-old rising star who will be well-positioned to contend for a spot on the standing committee in five years’ time.  If anything, Hu’s influence will remain considerable in the coming five years.

Because of these political constraints, Xi will have to balance the imperative for him to establish his image as a decisive and different leader with the political necessity of getting along with his colleagues on the standing committee and the retired leaders. The result of this delicate balancing act is likely a cautious start characterized by the adoption of relatively easy policy measures designed mainly to differentiate the new leadership from its immediate predecessor.

One such measure may be a thorough reform of the hukou system (household registration) that denies rural migrants full citizenship rights.   Allowing them to become full urban residents enjoying all the rights and benefits of city dwellers will be both socially just and economically beneficial.   In the past, opposition from large cities in coastal areas and the public security apparatus has blocked the reform.  But today, since more than 200 million migrants have settled in the cities already over the few decades, and improving their status can unleash enormous economic dynamism as well as create an instant constituency for Xi, it is highly likely that Xi will make this issue a top priority.

Another issue that may further enhance Xi’s political capital is the abolition of the much-hated one-child policy.  Political opposition to this reform is even weaker – one can think of only one interest group, the family-planning commission, that will try to block such a move.  Obviously, one important political consideration is that this bold move will effectively overturn a policy closely associated with Deng Xiaoping.  But on balance, Xi may conclude that this is a risk worth taking.

Andrew K P Leung
November 22, 2012 at 13:04

Professor Minxin Pei puts his finger on the most pressing challenges facing China's new President.

It is true that President Xi now pas much more power compared with out-going President Hu. A seldom-mentioned fact is that the so-called Jiang (Zemin) Office in Zhongnanhai, the nerve centre of Beijing's leadership, is now going to be abolished, probably as a deal for Hu to set an example for clean and complete transfer of power from one leadership to the next. This should augur well for the future stability of the Party.

This doesn't alter the fact that the Party remains a collective leadership albeit with a stronger President. However, even if a number of conservative-leaning old timers are now in the top leadership, they have to retire in five years time because of age. Some of the reforms are critical to the stability of the entire Party that even they may have a personal interest in supporting them.

See my Op-ed article "Old guard can still reform China" in the South China Morning Post.—scmp-14.11.2012.pdf

Amongst the most urgent reforms needed is how to rid the Party of its rampant corruption. Both out-going President Hu and in-coming President Xi have put this on top of the reform agenda. The term "life or death" of the Party and the nation was used.

It remains to be seen whether the Party is able to mandate open declaration of assets of officials and their families, and mount a vigorous and credible campaign to fight corruption at its roots. Promotion of public monitoring of officials (capitalizing on the ever-more vibrant social media) is on the cards. Holding officials to account, regardless of seniority, would be top of the priorities of new graft-buster Wang Qishan (currently China's "economic czar"). How to make the judiciary more independent, for example, by having all provincial judges appointed by Beijing instead of by local party secretaries, would no doubt help. Nevertheless, with a vast network of vested interests linked all the way to some people at the top, the prognosis is by no means rosy, at least not for the next five years.

As for democracy, I have explained many times that good governance holding officials to account to the people, rather than indiscriminate adoption of a Western model of rival multi-party politics, may be more suited to China's circumstances. Nevertheless, some progress is being to further deepen "intra-Party democracy". During the 18th Party Congress, for the first time in the history of the Party, a "differential voting" system of "selection" of party leaders for the highest level of leadership, the Politburo Standing Committee, was adopted. As can be expected, internal party politics (in which Jiang played a dominant role) eventually resulted in two pro-reform candidates being "voted out". But the adoption of such a system is in itself a welcome sign.
As for the One Child Policy, indeed its abolition is critical to China's tackling her fast aging demographics and the problems posed by the so-called Middle Income Trap. However, even if this Policy were scrapped right now, it would take decades rather years to have an impact on China's demographics. In any case, with world resources at a stretch, the long term solution for China is not by having more births but by embracing a low-carbon future.

See an analysis here of China's Middle Income Trap

As for the South China Sea, rising Japanese right-wing politics, rising nationalism, and the redoubling of America's Pivot to Asia are making things very difficult for all sides. The Asian order is being tested in a shifting world of geopolitics.—discord-in-asia—6-september-2012.pdf

However, in the interest of avoiding unpredictable and uncontrollable consequences of military escalations into a full-blow regional war or worse, it is nevertheless imperative for various stakeholders to exercise restraint and perhaps agree on a code of conduct at sea, without compromising territorial claims on all sides, leaving the latter to be settled by negotiations, bilaterally or multilaterally.

Best regards,


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