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China: the straining giant’s new leaders

A new line-up of top leaders replaces the old guard in China. How will the single-party system hold up under increasing challenges?

These include population expansion, redistribution of wealth, social priorities, energy and agriculture needs and the environment.

The new Politburo Standing Committee has been streamlined to seven from nine members, by decision of the 18th National People’s Congress.

The all-male high table of the Communist Party – with Xi Jinping at its head, is also more conscious than ever of a need to lash down corruption. Only some are reformists, others more traditional conservatives.

If there is to be any democracy, it is not expected that those controlling the power will extend it to the public but consult the people more, yes.

The new Party General Secretary Xi said: “Our responsibility is to work with all the comrades in the Party to uphold the principle that the Party should run itself with strict discipline, effectively solve major problems in the Party, improve our conduct, and maintain close ties with the people. This way we’ll ensure that our Party remains at the forefront of advancing socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

In a nutshell, that means keep the Party that in 1949 founded modern China powerful and stable.

It is also likely to mean any changes will be limited.

The outgoing government of Hu Jintao presided over impressive growth and stability for the last ten years but not much lasting reform.

The Chinese leader most associated with successful reforms was Deng Xiaoping, under whose leadership China began enormous economic development in the 1980s.

Xi Jinping is an ally of the retired yet influential 1989-2002 leader Jiang Zemin, who insiders say wants China to move more towards market-oriented policies.

But Xi will have to prove his own credibility within a political system whose authority is increasingly under new strains, including the demands of a modern middle class and a vast gap between the very rich and the very poor.

On top of this, Beijing is seeking to assert itself on the world stage financially, economically and militarily.

We spoke to our regular commentator on Chinese affairs, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, author of “How China’s Leaders Think”, to gauge whether change at the top in China really promises a new direction or just more of the same.

Nial O’Reilly euronews: “Dr Kuhn, we’ve had an idea for some time of the identities of some of the new generation of leaders. They’re younger but will they be much different?”

Robert Kuhn: “What’s important to understand is that it’s not just the senior leader, not just the head of the party – Mr Xi Jinping, the new General Secretary – that counts, but all the members, because they have equal votes. It’s really an oligarchic consensus that runs China. These seven individuals, everything in China reports to one of them, and they are all independent.

“Six of them have run major provinces or municipalities. These are territories that have thirty, fifty, up to a hundred million people, they’d be in the top 20 countries in the world if they were independent countries, and in the top 35 with regards to GDP. So they’ve had great administrative experience and that means they have worked with Western CEOs and business people, and diplomats for many years, literally, for two five-year terms, so many of them for eight to ten years, some of them even more than two provinces, so I look forward to that experience being very effective in dealing with the tremendous problems that China has.”

euronews: “One of the things they’re reportedly considering is a crackdown on corruption, but can we really expect the new leadership to police itself effectively, and moreover do the Chinese people expect it to?”

Kuhn: “Corruption is really an important topic, the Chinese people are really looking at this carefully now.

“The reason is that China has become much more wealthy, there are much more spoils to be split by the party in charge. And when you have a one-party system – which, frankly, I believe is good for China at least for the foreseeable future, as long as you have checks and balances, transparency, all the things that we need – but with a one-party system, you need a controlled media to maintain it, and if you have that, you’re never, ever going to totally control corruption.

“We’ve had terrible scandals this year expose the lack of checks and balances among the most senior leaders in China. People tell me personally, I mean high leaders, that this time, we really must get it right, because the people won’t stand for it. It’s going to be tough.”

euronews: “In terms of the economy – which is the big issue at the moment – what stands out for you as the significant policy developments at the Party Congress that has just finished?”

Kuhn: “When you look at economic growth, the problem is that everyone looks at the top line: China is growing at 7.5%, can they sustain that? Yes, they probably can sustain that, but that’s not the big issue.

“The big issue is what are the components of the GDP? In the past, it’s been very heavily weighted towards investment, infrastructure and exports, both of which are unsustainable, for different reasons: exports because you can’t have a trade [im]balance forever, and investment because the more investment you have, the less efficient it becomes.

“They must increase domestic consumption. You have to do that by raising workers’ wages, which requires a whole economic transformation of the country.

“So the fact that the growth rate is a little bit down, in itself, is actually not bad. You have to look at the components, you have to track it, because this is a very serious issue for China, where its economy is going, and of course the rest of the world is very much affected by it as well.”

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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