The Risks of Taking China’s Helm

Posted on July 11, 2012


BEIJING — Running China over the next decade may prove to be one of the toughest jobs on the planet.

Slowing economic growth, deepening social tensions and rising military nationalism, centered on China’s controversial claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, provide an increasingly unstable backdrop for hard choices that must be made on balancing prosperity, stability and justice, according to Chinese analysts. People — not just the new, monied middle class, but also farmers and the urban poor — are clamoring for a say over scores of issues, including corruption, land rights, housing and medical care, pollution and, recently, even forced abortions, a gruesome consequence of the one-child policy.

For this reason, insiders say, creating a sense of social equity will be one of the biggest challenges facing the man expected to get the country’s top job — Xi Jinping .

Much rests on the personality of the next leader. What will Mr. Xi be like?

“Xi Jinping,” says Wang Zhanyang, a well-connected scholar at the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing, “will be a little Deng Xiaoping.”

As if aware that people may wonder how Mr. Xi, who is over 1.8 meters, or 6 feet, tall, could be a “little Deng” — Deng was 1.5 meters, or 4 foot 11 — Mr. Wang continued: “I mean that Xi will be a young Deng Xiaoping.”

For Mr. Wang, who has spent years studying Deng, the comparison is a compliment. Others could read it more ambiguously. Deng, China’s last strongman, who died in 1997 , was a pragmatist who encouraged wealth acquisition and called for political reform (though he never set a clear timetable for it). But he was also brutal about holding on to power, notoriously supporting the military’s shooting of unarmed democracy protesters and ordinary citizens in Beijing in June 1989 .

In an interview last month, Mr. Wang focused on Mr. Xi’s personal qualities. “He’s got depth. He’s smart. He reads books. That’s very important. A person who reads books can understand complicated things,” he said.

“He can achieve things that a person who only reads articles or documents cannot,” he said.

Mr. Wang said that among the books Mr. Xi was said to be reading were ones about China’s “social contradictions” — code for the rising unrest created by decades of rapid economic growth in a one-party state where abuses of power are common. Many expect Mr. Xi to try to resolve such issues by focusing on improvements in social welfare.

Mr. Xi is also said to have read “The China Wave ” by Zhang Weiwei, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai and the Geneva School of Public Diplomacy and International Relations. That book offers a vigorous summary of the “China model” theory, which holds that China can successfully meld authoritarian government with a capitalist-style economy. (Section titles include “The China Model May Win Out” and “Political Reform, the Chinese Way.”) It depicts China’s rise as the rise of a civilization — something bigger than a nation.

If Mr. Xi gets the country’s top jobs, as is widely expected — he is likely to become the Communist Party’s general secretary later this year at the 18th Party Congress, and president of China next March — some scholars predict the pace of reform will step up.

What kind of reform?

“Overall reforms. Openness will enter a new phase,” said one scholar with close ties to leaders. He insisted on anonymity, given the atmosphere of rising tension ahead of the party congress, with insiders being warned not to talk to foreign reporters.

Major political players, including Mr. Xi, are “united on hastening reforms which will contribute to social stability,” the scholar said.

Powerful, state-run economic interest groups, notably in the property, energy and telecommunication sectors, exercise enormous influence over policy, crimping room for reform, many analysts agree. That is where hopes for Mr. Xi run high in some quarters, and where Mr. Wang’s comparison to Deng may be significant.

“China is still a country run by personalities, not by the law,” said the scholar who asked for anonymity. “So whoever is leader is terribly important and is the key thing. Everything flows from that.”

“The next leadership will be filled with quite strong people, and though the interest groups are a problem, if the leader is strong enough, he may be able to change them,” he said. Mr. Xi may have what it takes, he said.

Many people representing different viewpoints within the party are vying for Mr. Xi’s attention, analysts say. But the 2,270 delegates due to gather for the congress in Beijing are basically united on two points, the scholar said.

“We have to expand domestic demand” in the economy, to strengthen growth and buffer China from the vagaries of the global economy, he said.

And, he said, “Whatever their views on the future, everyone agrees that social stability is a priority. The situation is already considerably urgent.”

New York Times

China warns ASEAN on South China Sea row

China views the South China Sea as part of its “indisputable territory” (AFP/File, Torsten Blackwood)

BEIJING — China warned Southeast Asian nations on Tuesday against “hyping” a dispute over the South China Sea, as it voiced opposition to the row being discussed at a regional security forum.

As the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed forming a united position on the sensitive issue during a summit in Cambodia, China insisted the dispute should only be resolved directly between rival claimants.

“This South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and ASEAN, but between China and some ASEAN countries,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

“Hyping the South China Sea issue… is against the common aspirations of the people and the main trends of the time to seek development and cooperation, and is an attempt to take China-ASEAN relations hostage.”

China has expressed a willingness to discuss with the ASEAN bloc a potential South China Sea code of conduct aimed at reducing tensions.

But Liu said Beijing did not want the issue raised when ASEAN foreign ministers met their colleagues from China, the United States, Japan and other countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum starting in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

“The foreign minister’s meeting at the ASEAN Regional Forum is an important platform for building mutual trust and enhancing cooperation, it is not the appropriate place to discuss the South China Sea issue,” Liu said.

China claims essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims to the waters.

China recently angered Vietnam by inviting bids for exploration of oil blocks in contested waters. The Philippines has repeatedly accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim to the waters.

As tensions with China have risen, the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to shore up ties with the United States.


Posted in: Economy, Politics