“Chinese leadership: The challenge in 2012”

Kerry Brown has a piece at East Asia Forum commenting on what he thinks will be the greatest challenge facing the next leaders:

While the party has managed its affairs with great care and attention (Hu is known to almost religiously follow due process, and attempts to build broad consensus across all shades of party opinion for what he does), there is still a nagging sense that while this fourth generation leadership may well have got the internal issue of succession well sorted, it has done so by pushing aside the larger, and much more contentious and challenging issues of broader political reform that are now staring it in the face. Since its entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001, China’s economy has rocketed ahead — as much to the surprise of its leaders as those outside. Good economic performance was predicted back in 2001, but not one in which, in less than ten years, China would become the world’s largest exporter, largest importer, largest holder of foreign reserves and second largest economy. Five years ahead of what had been expected, China is in a much more powerful position than it, or others, had believed possible.

This has been a double-edged sword. While it has bought massive increases in GDP and prosperity, it has also created a society where there remain sharp divisions between the haves and the have-nots, and where social classes, from entrepreneurs, to the urban middle class, to the farmers — who, after all, still make up over half the population — are increasingly in conflict with each other over issues from property rights, the state of the environment, rights over pensions, and demands to have more of the wealth that the country has created.

The increasing repression since June 2009, where rights lawyers and activists have been victimised and frequently imprisoned, is symptomatic of a leadership that has been bold in its economic thinking but profoundly cautious in its political views. In the new leadership there are no signs, as yet, that anyone has a particularly strong idea about how, for instance, to deepen the rule of law in the country by allowing genuinely independent courts, or giving a proper legal status to civil society groups.

For the next decade, therefore, the issue will not be about the first battle — to build GDP — but about the conflicts that have come after that, to deal with the issues China will face as it progresses towards a middle-income-status country (its stated aim by 2020). These are proving to be far trickier and more demanding than simply pumping out good growth rates, and it is on these, more and more, that the future leadership of China will need to show the same kind of strong vision that their predecessors did about the economy, back in the late 1970s.

So far there is little sign that they have the vision, or the capacity, to do this. But like it or not, over the coming decade, this more than anything else will be their key task.

So Bo Xilai can get people excited about Red Songs. Nice. Do he and the other future leaders have any vision for what to do with China, though, beyond just having it continue to tread water?


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Filed under 2012 power transfer, China

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