Reforming leaders need to take China into future
In order for this “Big Bang” to happen, of course, the 2,268 delegates gathered at the 18th Communist Party Congress in the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing have to come up with a power elite that is open to reform, and that is by no means certain.
Xi Jinping will lead the party and the country after a process taking several months runs its course, but the figure in charge of matters economic is usually the premier – in this case, Li Keqiang, who will take over from Wen Jiabao. In the last days of his rule, Wen has been vocal in calling for change.
China’s economic growth this year looks set to be the weakest since 1999 after the global economic crisis savaged exports and government policies to curb inflation and property speculation damped domestic demand. Expansion may ease to 7.7 per cent from 9.3 per cent last year.
“To be sure the 10 years under [president and party secretary general] Hu [Jintao] is a decade of most robust economic growth and increasing prestige of China in the international arena,” said Ho-fung Hung of Johns Hopkins University.
However, the growth model also has run its course and started to lose momentum near the end of Mr Hu’s term.
“China is now at a crossroads – what worked in the last 10 years will not work in the next 10. And Hu’s political report does not outline any hint of change and reform, just repeating what has been said in the past.
“But, of course, it is up to Xi and Li to attempt such reorientation and change, and it will depend on how much degree of freedom the new leadership could enjoy in the next few years,” said Mr Hung.
There are, however, equally strong arguments against buying into the reform idea.
When Hu Jintao delivered his five-yearly report at the congress last Thursday, the reform agenda he mentioned was very much along the lines of that set out in the 12th Five Year Plan. Not much new there.
October data showed industrial production was up, as were retail sales. Property sales were steady, car sales healthy. Most analysts believe the downturn has bottomed. So why reform?
“He made it clearer in this report that the central issue of future economic reform is the relationship between market and the government, and emphasised the importance of equal public service for rural and urban residents,” said UBS analyst Wang Tao.
“We do not expect immediate policy changes or initiatives in the coming months.”