“China will move forward with reform, slowly”

The CSM is taking a good look at what Xi Jinping ascending while Bo Xilai crashes means, but their conclusion might be a bit too optimistic:

China is an oligarchy, not a dictatorship, and ultimate authority will not be vested individually with Mr. Xi, but collectively with the CPC Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), currently with nine members. Everything in China reports to one of these nine. Xi will be first among equals, but equals the nine are, and their final composition shapes policy.

This explains the intense focus on the firing of Mr. Bo, because it was assumed he would become a PSC member in the once-a-decade top leadership shuffle. Media savvy, Bo had built a name for himself by promoting the “Chongqing Model,” a leftist-populist mixture of strong state, Maoist paeans (“Red songs”), crime crackdown, equality over productivity, and wealth redistribution.

Xi, of course, upholds the primacy of the party. Yet, recognizing China’s “earthshaking change,” he advises officials to embrace greater change – to “emancipate our minds and overcome the attitude of being satisfied with the status quo, the inertia of conservative and complacent thinking, the fear of difficulties, and timid thinking.”

Though some would have Xi quicken reform, political as well as economic, he will likely move slowly. Stability will continue as China’s touchstone.

One challenge for Xi Jinping is high expectations. A senior aide confided, “Xi is ready, but it won’t be easy.”

Where exactly Xi and his fellow Politburo Standing Committee members will take China is not clear. What is clear is that they will move forward with reform step by pragmatic step, not backward to Maoist nostalgia or cult of personality populism.

Isn’t there a third possibility, that inertia will keep China on its slow drift away from meaningful political reform and towards a police/surveillance state? If you think Xi will overpower the various police bureaus and anti-reform blocs, I think the burden of providing evidence lies on you at this point.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, political reform, Xi Jinping

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