The devil’s in the detail, much still unclear. The Chinese Communist Party’s new 60-point reform plan has been hailed as a welcome sign that President Xi Jinping, a year into the job and firmly in control, is committed to a modernising, loosening up of the command system by which the party rules. A historic turning point, Xi insists. His purpose, to shore up party support, boost growth with market reforms while maintaining stability.
It is a necessary but risky strategy likely to raise further expectations – the party, weaned on centralisation, has to learn the balancing act of ruling by not ruling everything.
And the headline reforms, the easing of the 30-year-old One Child Policy, and the ending of “re-education through labour” (RTL) camps , may be largely cosmetic. RTL is the tip of the iceberg of a huge, deeply oppressive detention system in which arbitrary arrest is widespread, the rule of law notional. Xi promises to “improve the transparency and public credibility of the judiciary” and reduce the number of capital offences – the proof will be in the pudding. At the same time “ensuring order, national security and social stability in the dissemination of information on the Internet has become a ... pressing problem facing us, ” a sign that the great firewall of China is unlikely to disappear.
The reform of the reviled, increasingly ignored, One Child Policy will only give a green light to couples wanting to have two children if one of the couple is an only child – probably only resulting in an increase of one million births a year now in its 1.34 billion population.
Xi is promising to restructure the economy by encouraging private participation in finance, competition in key parts of the economy, and giving farmers better property protection and compensation for confiscated land. A key thrust will be to close the growing gap between urban and rural China, but observers fear that much of the reform may face strong institutional resistance from ministries and parts of the administration unwilling to cede control to local authorities or independent businesses.