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China opens key party session, reform tops agenda
2013/11/11
 

CHANGING SITUATION, NEW CHALLENGES

Thirty-five years later, both China and the world have dramatically changed. As the Cold War ended, the East and the West headed toward globalization.

The West stumbled over a global financial crisis, which singled out China's economic performance. But, being the world's second-largest economy, China now sees its once two-digit growth slowing to less than 8 percent.

With most Chinese already having a full stomach and living in a relatively safe and prosperous society, impatience and discontent about other more aspirational matters are growing.

A thin chance of owning an apartment is the problem for Chen Hao, a college graduate working in Beijing, currently the most expensive city in China in terms of housing price.

"An apartment in the Beijing suburbs sells for 20,000 yuan per square meter and I earn 5,000 yuan a month," he said. "My girlfriend says 'no house, no marriage.'"

The government's performance has not improved as satisfying as the economy.

Bureaucracy runs deep. It took 14 months to build a nursery in east China's Zhejiang Province, for example, but gaining government approval to build it and getting the nursery building past the inspection took two years and stamps from 133 departments.

Deteriorating corruption among civil servants worries many. Dozens of high-ranking officials have been sacked for corruption over the past year, which not only showed the anti-graft resolve but also a grave situation.

Amid fast urbanization, the countryside is losing young laborers, land and wealth while the cities are running short of resources and facing worsening pollution.

Poverty has not been totally wiped out. Nearly 200 million Chinese, including villagers living only 160 km away from Beijing, are living under the absolute poverty line by the World Bank standard (one U.S. dollar per day).

What's more, people are beginning to question the sustainability of the country's economic growth. Among the three known growth engines, investment still overwhelms while domestic consumption and export are relatively weak.

All these questions need to be answered soon. That's why high expectation is placed on the ongoing party session.

GREATLY EXPECTED REFORM

Since it took office nearly a year ago, the current Chinese leadership has been making reform moves.

In December 2012, President Xi Jinping signalled his commitment to this drive by making his first inspection tour as new Party chief to Shenzhen, the forefront of China's reform and opening up, where he stressed that "reform will not come to a standstill nor will opening up come to a stop."

The new central government formed in March has been pushing forward an institutional reform, which aims to cut red tape and decentralize power at its core. So far, it has abolished or transferred 221 administrative approval items to local governments.

Market-oriented reform is under way as well. In July, China's central bank canceled the floor on lending rates. The China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone launched in September is expected to create a testing ground for convertibility of the Chinese currency and the deregulation of interest rates.

Analysts say that, helped by official reform policies and announcements, a strong consensus on and great expectations of reform are building in the country.

Professor Wang Huaichao with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee said there is no disagreement on the necessity of reform. "The debate is on the sequence, degree and measures of reform," said Wang.

Qin Gang, another professor with the school, believes that reform must address public expectations, such as narrowing the income gap, social equality, and an end to corruption through institutional changes.

Private and state-owned enterprises should be on an equal footing in using production resources, competing in markets and enjoying legal protection, said Xie Lingquan, board chairman of a private food company in Shaanxi Province.

A GLOBAL CHALLENGE

Analysts say both China and the rest of the world is pinning hopes on reform.

Western developed economies still in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis face the choice of reform or impasse. For the developed countries that have taken a reform course, significant progress seems to be elusive.

The Obama Administration has not yet achieved breakthroughs in financial and fiscal reforms; the European Union is mired in the debt crisis; and Japan is exhausted in turning around persisting economic stagnation.

In an atmosphere of lackluster global recovery, the performance of the Chinese economy is under the international microscope, according to Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

It is not unreasonable to contend that China's internal economic vitality will drive the world down a similar path, he said.

Liu Heung Shing said, "Actually, reform takes place in every country, but in the 20th and 21st centuries nowhere has it been as influential as in China, stirring the interest of the whole world."

The analysts say the CPC, governing the world's largest developing country, has a dual task.

It has to confront domestic problems such as a 1.3-billion population, the urban-rural gap, income disparity and diverse interests.

Globally, it needs to explore a new approach to the development of humankind by leading China into both competition and cooperation with other systems.

The analysts believe reform in China has been successful yet unfinished. For future reform, practice will provide the answers.

 
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