Reform Takes Back Seat at Party Congress

At the opening of the 18th Party Congress, which will enshrine the next generation of Communist Party leadership in China, President Hu Jintao outlined the major problems facing his country but made it clear that the Party would not sacrifice its own power in finding solutions. Nevertheless, a “cross-section” of elites is insisting that political reform is the only way to confront the current challenges. From the New York Times:

With China at a critical juncture, there is a rising chorus within the elite expressing doubt that the 91-year-old Communist Party’s authoritarian system can deal with the stresses bearing down on the nation and its 1.3 billion people. Policies introduced after 1978 by Deng Xiaoping lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and transformed the country into the world’s second-largest economy. But the way party leaders have managed decades of growth has created towering problems that critics say can no longer be avoided.

Many of those critics have benefited from China’s stunning economic gains, and their ranks include billionaires, intellectuals and children of the party’s revolutionary founders. But they say the party’s agenda, as it stands today, is not visionary enough to set China on the path to stability. What is needed, they say, is a comprehensive strategy to gradually extricate the Communist Party, which has more than 80 million members, from its heavy-handed control of the economy, the courts, the news media, the military, educational institutions, civic life and just the plain day-to-day affairs of citizens.

Only then, the critics argue, can the government start to address the array of issues facing China, including rampant corruption, environmental degradation, and an aging population whose demographics have been skewed because of the one-child policy.

“In order to build a real market economy, we have to have real political reform,” said Yang Jisheng, a veteran journalist and a leading historian of the Mao era. “In the next years, we should have a constitutional democracy plus a market economy.”

Reuters, meanwhile, looks at the political prospects for would-be reformers, including Wang Yang, in the Party leadership:

When Wang spoke to reporters on Friday, he stuck to a well rehearsed script that could have come from any apparatchik.

“Because China has taken the strategic choice of reform and opening up, every member of the Chinese Communist Party, including myself, is a reformist – or else there would be no today,” he told reporters.

“We will follow the themes of the 18th party congress to push for reform,” he said. “As for the next steps for reform, General Secretary Hu Jintao has already clearly stated those, so I won’t recite the report for you.”


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