“Reform in the Air in Beijing”

A slightly misleading title, as the article itself is far more ambiguous on the subject. Gordon Chang on the two conferences, leadership change, and political reform:

This time, the handover from one set of leaders to the next is provoking real debate among party luminaries because there is a sense that things must change in the country. So it is not only the wholesale turnover in party leadership that is consuming the assembled deputies. There is now talk of fundamental reform, political as well as economic.

There is always great hope, both inside and outside the People’s Republic, when new leaders take over in Beijing, and now, with the need for change apparent, many are beginning to think that Xi Jinping, slated to replace Hu Jintao as general secretary, and Li Keqiang, tapped to take over from Premier Wen Jiabao, will actually move the country in the right direction. As Wang Xiangwei, the new editor of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, reports, “Already there is positive chatter that both Xi and Li are bona fide reformists, unlike Hu and Wen, who have continually spoken of reforms but failed to manage any significant breakthroughs during their 10-year reigns.”

There are a dozen reasons why analysts think that Xi will sponsor change once he takes over after the First Plenum: his father was a reformer, members of Xi’s Princeling faction are bolder than the technocrats, new Chinese leaders always try to clean house if they can. All this makes sense, but there are also a hundred reasons why Xi will act to protect the status quo: Xi is close to conservative generals, he will protect the business interests of fellow Princelings, he will need years to consolidate his political base among the hard-liners controlling Beijing.

In truth, we do not know what Xi really thinks or how he will exercise power, should he in fact take over the Communist Party this fall. Yet among the NPC deputies now in the Chinese capital, there is a sense of anticipation that his rule will see great change. And the desire for change is the one precondition for progress.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, National People's Congress, political reform

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