China is in a leadership transition. The recent gatherings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference focused on improving the state’s economic model and paving the way for a renewal of the rulers. The new ones will grapple with not only with the economy, but also corruption and public demonstrations.
The president, Hu Jintao, will be replaced with current vice-president Xi Jinping.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will move over for the deputy premier, Li Keqiang.
Xi (approximately pronounced ‘she’) recently visited the US, where he was received by President Barack Obama at the White House, which helped burnish his credentials. He will take the reins in Beijing early in 2013.
In the meantime, the government has some highly unusual numbers to crunch, which are worrying people well outside China as well as in it.
China posted its biggest trade deficit in February, worth a record more than 24 billion euros.
Growth has clearly slowed down. It did that last year already. The projection for 2012 has been set at 7.5 percent in the international context.
But inflation fell in February, to 3.2 percent – the lowest it has been in 20 months.
These indicators are important for social stability in China. Job creation needs growth to be around eight percent of GDP. The authorities say that 25 million more workers will be looking for employment in Chinese cities next year. More than half of them will have degrees. Some ten million will look for work in the fields.
As for dissent, most protests the Chinese Communist Party deals with concern confiscations of land by corrupt officials, who sell to developers. But the farmers of Wukan village in South-East China at the end of last year drew more media attention than usual and the provincial government met the villagers’ demands.
But no demands are being met over Tibet. There, restrictions against Tibetan culture and religious practices are still clamped tight. Beijing pays minimal attention to martyr-demonstrators setting themselves on fire, in spite of the continuing human rights disapproval the crackdown earns the Chinese in the eyes of the international community.
Dr Robert Lawrence Kuhn, regular euronews commentator on Chinese affairs, and author of “How China’s Leaders Think”, offered a glimpse inside the People’s Republic political workings.
Nial O’Reilly, head of the English language service at euronews, asked Kuhn about the National People’s Congress at a crucial moment for China, with rising economic pressures and increasingly complex issues in international affairs to deal with.
Nial O’Reilly, euronews: Beyond the traditional show of unity, what are the key decisions taken by the Congress in these areas ?
Dr Robert Kuhn: All of the focus is on domestic activity. Very little about international affairs. It’s all domestically-focused. That means, health care. Health care is extremely important because the system is terrible in China, it’s corrupt and inefficient, and people are seriously worried about that. Social security, what they do when they retire, education – these are the hot buttons that people are talking about. On the economy, Premier Wen Jiabao set the target at 7.5%. This set off problems in the world’s stock markets because they had expected… in previous years it was 8%. China always exceeds that. They have ratcheted down the target growth rate, and the reason that is important is that China is looking to rebalance its economy.
euronews: The Congress also came during the country’s biggest leadership transition in nearly a decade. What were the main messages coming from the current leaders and indeed their presumed heirs on this transition?
Kuhn: There is generally a good feeling about the new leaders coming in. The leadership of China is controlled by nine members of what is called the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Everything in China reports to one of these nine individuals. It is not like an American cabinet where the president can fire and hire whoever he likes. These nine individuals have independent power in their own regard. The new president – the head of the party – is very likely to be Xi Jinping. He is one of the nine, and indeed the first among equals, but it is definitely ‘equals’. He cannot fire any one of the nine. The only way that one of those nine can be changed is by a vote of the entire nine.
euronews: Everyone at the Congress must have had their eyes on Xi Jinping, who has recently had a high profile visit to the US. Has his profile in the Party, as viewed by the Congress, changed after that visit ?
Kuhn: Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States was extremely critical in this transition year, and it was a major success. It played very well in China. The people appreciated that their coming leader was able to generate a sophisticated image on the world scene, indeed elevating China to a new level of power and respectability among the nations of the world. So, whereas this had primarily an international impact, the primary audience really was China, and he has demonstrated that he is the right person for these complex times.
China's new Communist Party leaders