More than ten years ago China needs real change, writes author Zhang Lijia in her column in The Guardian. But it is far from clear whether the new leader Xi Jinping can deliver that change, even if its hurt interests of friends and family?
China is trying to shift from being an investment- and export-driven economy to an innovation- and domestic-consumption-driven one. But such economic restructuring needs loosening political control. Currently, the long arm of the government is everywhere, controlling all the important industries, including mining, oil and telecoms. You don’t need an economics degree to know that monopoly is the enemy of the market, and one of the many reasons for economic slowdown is a political bottleneck.
Socially, there is widespread discontent. Recently, protests have erupted like mushrooms after spring rain: farmers demonstrating over land seizure, workers demanding higher pay, or citizens trying to stop the construction of a toxic industrial factory.
It’s a pipe dream to hope China will introduce American-style direct elections. But some kind of political participation, other than the expansion of intra-party democracy, and more channels for people to air their grievances would help to ease social tension.
Our new leader, Xi Jinping, 59, will face a mountain of challenges. Despite being a so-called princeling – a son of a high-ranking leader – he tumbled in the soil with peasants during the cultural revolution, an experience that should help him to relate to the needs and hardships of ordinary people.
Although the need for change is more urgent than it was 10 years ago, I am more cautious about the outcome. Genuine reforms, not tweaks here and there, always demand courage. Will he be able to press ahead, overcoming possible resistance from more conservative colleagues? Also, Xi and other top leaders are selected because they’ve proven not only their leadership ability but also their loyalty to the party. Will they be willing to give away some of the power the party holds and introduce reforms that may hurt the interests of their friends and relatives?
Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.
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On November 1 the China Weekly Hangout also focused on the need for change in China. You can see the proceeding, with Janet Carmosky, Greg Anderson and Fons Tuinstra.