The Second Long March: 30 Years of Reform

With this month marking the 30th anniversary of the launch of China’s economic reform policies, the Economist reflects on the prospects for political reforms as the PRC enters its 60th year:

Next year the country will mark its 60th birthday as a people’s republic (in Confucian tradition, 60th birthdays are particularly significant). Reform and opening has thus taken up half of China’s communist life. But officials are being careful to manage expectations of further change. Deng once suggested that direct elections to national leadership posts could be held by 2050. No one mentions that now. On the economic side huge challenges loom, among them an ageing population and a blighted environment, both of which could drag down growth.

Deng, who died in 1997, is often described as the chief architect of reform, as if the sweeping changes of the past 30 years were mapped out by him. He himself more accurately described his approach as “crossing a river by feeling the stones”. The ultimate objective has never been clear. Since 1992 it has been to set up a “socialist market economy”, but officials struggle to explain how this differs from a real one. Deng announced that year that the party’s “basic line” (party-speak for reform and opening under one-party rule) would not change for 100 years. This implies a lot more stone-groping.

Reuters looks at how the struggle to redefine the Marxist economy plays out in Beijing’s hutongs:

There, migrants from northern China, seeking their fortune in the big city, live side-by-side with workers from bankrupt firms who can no longer count on the cradle-to-grave security that was a bedrock of the socialist system.

Creating a new social safety net for millions of workers cast adrift in the past 15 years has emerged as a key challenge for the Communist Party — especially given the global economic downturn could create waves of more unemployed.

The government has only slowly begun building a modern welfare state despite three decades of rapid growth that has made China the world’s fourth-largest economy.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, calls on China to continue full-steam ahead with capitalist reforms despite recent setbacks with the global financial crisis:

The danger is that Beijing is extracting the wrong lesson from recent events at home and abroad. Reformers have won many battles in recent years, but not quite the intellectual war yet. Now a growing number of policy makers seem wary of further economic reforms. Emboldened by the current global financial crisis, anti-free-market critics have grown increasingly boisterous. Some pundits in China have gleefully declared the beginning of the decline of U.S.-led free market capitalism. These critics attribute the global financial crisis mainly to the failure of laissez-faire philosophies, and note Western governments’ nationalization of well-known financial institutions.

This debate could have serious policy consequences.

On the political front, hundreds of citizens have called for political and legal reforms in a significant document called Charter 08. China Media Project also translates an interview with liberal party scholar Yu Keping, in which he argues that the fight against corruption should be a major component of the political reform process.


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