Thursday, 8 November 2012

China's Daunting Challenges Ahead

President Hu Jintao delivering his speech to delegates
The 18th National People's Congress opened today with much fanfare and all eyes were on the stage as President Hu Jintao came out and following right behind him an older but still mobile former President Jiang Zemin. It was an obvious show that Jiang is still very much a power broker behind the scenes.

How they seat some 2,300 delegates in the Great Hall of the People is a pretty amazing feat, but probably even more so is how to stay awake throughout the entire proceedings. What happens if you get caught on camera dozing off? Or need to go to the loo while the President is speaking -- for 100 minutes?

In any event everyone was riveted to hear what Hu had to say in his swansong speech.

And apart from going over how the country had developed in the past decade, his constant refrain was how the country needed to battle corruption. "If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the Party, and even cause the collapse of the Party and the fall of the state," he said.

Anyone who breaks the law will be brought to justice "whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have," he said.

However what Hu is saying is a repeat of 10 years ago -- which indicates nothing has really changed.

Officials who were charged with corruption were punished depending on the severity of it and how good their guanxi was. This unwritten policy continues to this day. Worse is those who had serious problems during their watch were sacked, but in reality lay low for a few years before being reappointed to another position elsewhere.

And while this is one of the biggest issues ordinary Chinese are most concerned about, nothing concrete has been done.

They are tired of seeing people in power taking advantage of their positions for financial gain. But this stems from not only the Cultural Revolution but the Great Leap Forward too, where social morals completely broke down for utter survival.

It's all good and well that Hu is openly warning officials about corruption, but what is the Party going to do about it?
Hu warned corruption could be "fatal to the Party"

Where are the proper checks and balances? The rule of law is used by the Party for its own ends instead of letting justice take its course.

The handling of Bo Xilai and the other players, his wife Gu Kailai and former police chief Wang Lijun is case in point.

All three did not had access to their own lawyers -- and in the case of Gu and Li, they were detained and unseen until their cases came to trial.

We have yet to see Bo emerge from some kind of house arrest, and even then is that how rule of law works in China?

There are other pressing concerns the general public have, including a social safety net, healthcare costs and having safe food to eat.

How about addressing these everyday problems?

When you look back at the Hu-Wen era, what did they really achieve?

They will like to boast that China hosted its first Olympic Games and the country sustained 30 years of economic growth, but those double-digit numbers have dropped considerably towards the end of their term and they did little to avert the problem except throw tons of money into stimulus packages that ended up on Macau casino tables.

Serious economic reforms must be made, particularly in state-owned enterprises and bank lending. There needs to be more support for small- and medium-sized enterprises that are itching to expand but don't have access to capital.

And there also needs to be greater innovation because China cannot continue being the factory of the world much longer. It has too many educated young people who are capable of doing something other than mind-numbing assembly-line work.

The government needs to stop being so paranoid and tightening its monitoring of the media, particularly the internet. Media freedoms became even more strict in the past five years than in the Jiang Zemin era. Why is that? Shouldn't things move forward and not backward?

So like US President Barack Obama, incoming President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have daunting challenges ahead.

We hope Xi and Li can find consensus within the Party to move China forward -- to make these long overdue reforms, create an accountability system and encourage innovation.

Otherwise China is going to be so mired in its own problems that its citizens will lose its faith in the Party -- something that's already happening.

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