New Leaders Rule Two Different Chinas
Has China’s recent leadership transition ushered in a period of solidarity? Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer thinks so, as he notes the consolidation of power at the top of the Communist Party and makes some predictions about the challenges the incoming leaders will face. From Reuters:
This new regime will govern a China that is increasingly two different countries. On the coast, the country is developed, with the amenities of a post-industrialized society. In the countryside, China is still a developing country, with hundreds of millions of people living in poverty. In 2010, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, there was a nearly threefold difference in per capita incomes between coastal China and inland China. Likewise, China now has more income inequality than the United States, making China 27th in the world overall.
Those Chinas want different things from their leaders. People making $20,000 a year in prosperous cities don’t need 8 percent growth. They need product safety, government accountability, transparency, clean air and water ‑ good government, in other words, without all the lies and the secret wealth. People in the interior, on the other hand, need growth and goods. Government transparency means less to those who live hand to mouth.
This is what the 21st century economy has wrought, but China clings to its 20th century political system. Ten years ‑ the expected stint of the current Politburo members (though there will be room for halftime adjustments) ‑ is a long time to live with so fundamental a contradiction. Pressures will mount from within and without for China to modernize its political approach to match the economic reforms it must undertake. But those hoping for political reform are sure to be disappointed, no matter how much they pine for them on Weibo or in the halls of the United Nations. The leadership change, remember, was all about solidarity, both for the Communist Party and with the party’s past efforts. Citizens on both ends of the spectrum may grumble, but the Chinese leadership will continue its slow and cautious approach ‑ and its focus, first and foremost, will be on consolidating power and eliminating threats to the party’s hold on power. On the Politburo’s list of priorities, political innovations will run a distant second.
Meanwhile, though little evidence remains of the 18th Party Congress which took place earlier this month, The New York Times’ Amy Qin reports that nostalgia still lingers for some residents of Beijing:
Liu Ji, 63, was one of the many sprightly retirees called upon by security officials this month to work as informal traffic cops, taking to the streets to keep unruly pedestrians and drivers in line. In a city with more than five million registered cars, it was not the most relaxing task. But Ms. Liu, a longtime Communist Party member, said it was an honor to play a role during the weeklong event, even if it meant tackling the city’s nightmarish congestion equipped with only a red armband and a flag.
“To help out even just a little is a glorious feeling,” she said.
But now, the heart of this ancient capital has returned to what passes for normal these days: hazy gray skies above the granite expanse; crowds of tourists, both Chinese and foreign, milling around and posing for photographs; and uniformed security officers watching them carefully in front of the Forbidden City. (Less familiar was the sight of some of those officers zipping around the square on two-wheeled, Segway-like vehicles as the ageless Mao Zedong gazed down from his portrait.)
Elsewhere, pirated DVDs and English-language books on China have reappeared on shelves after having been relegated to storerooms in some shops. Several prominent activists who were asked to leave Beijing during the conclave have slowly found their way back to their homes.