decades, political stability truly seemed to go hand inhand with growing economic prosperity, just as the partyintended.But in recent years the system has once again becomeshaky. China’s growing middle class is increasingly welleducated and verbal, has access to the Internet and hasstarted to become accustomed to a certain (thoughlimited) freedom of expression. There is widespreadoutrage at conspicuous corruption. Farmers are furiousabout unfair expropriation of land. Entrepreneurs andacademics want greater intellectual freedom. More andmore people in China are travelling abroad, gaining newimpressions and returning home with a feeling that therigid Chinese system is incapable of providing adequateresponses to the challenges ahead.There is no large-scale democracy movement in theWestern sense. Instead, there is a desire for freedom ofexpression, a clean-up of rampant corruption and a moreattentive, inclusive leadership. It is obvious to more andmore people that today’s rigid top-down control must bereplaced by greater dialogue and partnership, but how toget there is far from self-evident; different commentatorsmean different things when they speak of “politicalreform”.My conclusion is that the cornerstones of Deng’s strategyare crumbling. The Chinese model has to be updated. Inhis day, Deng broke with the centrally planned economy.Today’s leaders face the task of updating Deng’s model,which was so successful for decades. According to a newdebate anthology, the task is to build a “China 3.0” afterMao’s “China 1.0” and Deng’s “China 2.0”.
In thefollowing sections I will discuss what this means,especially for economic strategy, but also for the battleagainst corruption. Demographics, security policy andenvironmental issues are highly important but have beenomitted from this account, since I primarily discussedeconomic issues during my Beijing visit.
The new leaders
In November the 18
Congress of the Communist Partyof China elected a new Central Committee and a newPolitburo. At the top of the power pyramid is thePolitburo Standing Committee, which was reduced fromnine to seven members – presumably signalling that theparty leadership wants a firmer decision-making process.Of these seven, only two were members of the previousStanding Committee: those who are ranked No. 1 andNo.2:
has apprenticed as vice president for thepast five years and has been groomed as the next
Mark Leonard (ed):
, European Council on ForeignRelations, 2012.
party leader. The choice of Xi as party generalsecretary was thus completely expected. He is theson of a prominent revolutionary leader, has servedas a provincial governor, organised the BeijingOlympics and has good contacts with the military.He appears more charismatic than his predecessor,is a better speaker, is more well-travelled – and ismarried to one of China’s most famous singers. Inpolitical terms, Xi has not stood out in any way. Hethus appears to be a person capable of keeping theleadership together and uniting different factions.
has apprenticed as first vice premier inthe same way. He has a more humble backgroundand comes from the Party’s youth league, like theretiring party leader (many claim he was Hu’spersonal favourite for the top position). Li is themost explicitly reformist member of the newleadership. He has occasionally faced criticism – heis said to have been slow in dealing with the SARSepidemic in his province – and Li’s detractorsaccuse him of having inadequate leadershipqualities.Some of the five new Standing Committee memberswere relatively unexpected by Western pundits.Commentators in the West have generally expresseddisappointment that more reform-minded leaders, suchas Guangdong provincial governor Wang Yang, did notreach the top. But it is hard to avoid the suspicion thatsome of their displeasure is a kind of “sour grapes”reaction. Some of the new Standing Committeemembers have a
track record as economicreformers, though not as political reformers.
helped tackle China’s banking crisisof the 1990s. He is thus called the “fire-fighter” –the person sent in to clean up and solve difficultproblems. He is regarded as capable and reform-minded. Many observers thought Wang would begiven responsibility for economic matters, but onthe new team he will be in charge of the Party’sdiscipline commission and will thus responsible forfighting corruption – a signal that a tougherapproach can be expected.
comes from the post of party chief inthe major port city of Tianjin. He was previouslyparty chief in Shenzhen, for many years the mostdynamic city in southern China and something of atest-bed for market reforms. Zhao has kept a lowprofile, but his background puts him in what mightbe called the pro-market camp. He is the favouriteto become first vice premier in charge of theeconomy.