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.

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