China Political Review 2005:Promoting a Harmonious Society to Cope with a Crisis of Governance
By Yongnian Zheng, Zhengxu Wang and Liang Fook Lye*
Hu Jintao Fully-in-Charge
1.1 At first glance, the year 2005 appears to have been politically uneventfulfor China. In past years, major events took place such as the leadershipsuccession in 2002, the SARS epidemic and its political repercussions in2003, and Hu Jintao’s assumption of the Chairmanship of the CentralMilitary Commission (CMC) in 2004. No events of similar significance tookplace this year. Even on the economic front, the regime’s effort incurtailing economic overheating seems to be on the right track. This year,the economy is expected to grow by 9.4%, compared to 9.5% a yearbefore.
1.2 Yet, beneath the veneer of stable economic growth and politicaltranquility, China faces simmering social grievances arising from peasantdiscontent, corruption and government abuse of power, widening incomeand regional disparities, and environmental degradation. For example, inJuly 2005, the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's PoliticalConsultative Conference (CPPCC) pointed to the widening income gap as"the root cause of disharmony".
Official statistics show that the number of incidents of popular unrest in 2004 jumped to 74,000 from 58,000 in 2003and 10,000 in 1994.
1.3 Moreover, the frequent coal mining disasters across the country and therecent contamination of the Songhua River in China’s Northeast due to anexplosion at a chemical plant are exemplary of the increasingly damagingeffects of the blind focus on economic growth. Besides raising questionsabout proper governance at the local level, these mishaps underscore thechallenges faced by the central government in encouraging local leaders tolook beyond GDP growth figures.1.4 At the
palace complex, Hu’s effort to consolidate power hascontinued apace. Hu has emerged dominant as the top leader of the Partyand the State. In achieving this, he has established a viable workingrelationship with Premier Wen Jiabao, who handles the dailyadministration of the country. Most notably, Vice President ZengQinghong, who is Jiang Zemin’s protégé and was previously seen as acontender for power against Hu, has rallied behind him.
1.5 Within the Party, Hu has made a concerted effort to enhance its governingcapacity. Early this year, a campaign was launched to “maintain theadvanced nature” of the Party (
). Party members, from the
* Yongnian Zheng is Professor and Head of Research at the China Policy Institute of the University of Nottingham; Zhengxu Wang is Visiting Research Fellow at the East Asian Institute (EAI) of theNational University of Singapore; and, Liang Fook Lye is Research Officer at the East Asian Institute.The authors are grateful to John Wong and Richard Pascoe for their valuable comments on the draft.
“China’s economy to grow by 9.4 points this year”,
, 5 December 2005.
“China warns gap between rich, poor is feeding unrest”,
The Washington Post
, 22 September 2005.
“The cauldron boils; protests in China”,
, 1 October 2005.
Hu’s consolidation of power is rapid by Chinese standards. His immediate predecessor, Jiang Zemin,is widely regarded to have only consolidated his power eight years after he became General Secretaryin 1989. Before that, Zhao Ziyang (1987-1989) and Hu Yaobang (1982-1987) only managed to holdon to the post of General Secretary for two years and five years respectively.