“The risks of not reforming are now higher than the risks of reforming.” According to Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American businessman who wrote an authorized biography of Jiang Zemin.
Despite major political scandals, factional infighting in China, and a series of self-immolations in various parts of Tibet, Beijing recently concluded 18th party congress and unveiled the top seven Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) members who are the brains behind the direction of China’s social and economic growth in the years to come. The departed nine members under the helm of Hu Jintao left unprecedented challenges for the new collective leadership headed by Xi Jinping. Unlike his two predecessors, Hu Jintao handed over the most privileged post of chairman of central military commission (CMC) along with the party’s general secretary post to the compromised successor Xi Jinping.
China observers believe Hu’s handover of the military post implies that he has no longer clout over the party elite politics and at the same time it reflects the healthy sign and exemplary to future successions. That was reflected through the party elders’ hand behind the scene particularly the influential 87 years old former party chief Jiang Zemin’s clout in “horse trading” and managed to outmaneuver Hu in filling seats in PSC with his protégés and allies-accounting for five of the seven members. It is visible that from Hu’s side the two relatively younger leaders, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, known for their liberal views and reformist outlook failed to reach the apex. Generally, Jiang’s protégés are more hardliners, while Hu’s allies are liberals and reformist.
Xi’s maiden remarks after his proclamation of party general secretary to succeed Hu, stressed on a growing number of corruption nationwide and to eradicate it in order to smooth and successful running of the party. After lambasting corruption, he pressed on gaining trust of the Chinese people to maintain the status quo of the party. There was nothing to hear about political reform which many people are skeptical about his recent conversation with Hu Deping, the son of late party chief Hu Yaobang, who was known to be reformist. Xi reportedly told Hu Deping, a former vice director of the United Front Work Department “Since the people are getting impatient with mere talk about reform, we must raise high the banner of reform, including political liberalization.” As I learned from few China observers that these kinds of conversations are mere a lip service and just to please people.
From another perspective, Xi had a father who was a revolutionary hero and economic reformist, purged by Mao and sent to countryside for manual labor. Later imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977). After Mao’s death, senior Xi was rehabilitated by then party secretary Hu Yaobang and elected to the Politburo and served as Vice-Premier. He was one among many other liberal minded leaders who believed in meaningful reform unlike Wen Jiabao who expressed undefined political reform on numerous occasions. His Holiness the Dalai Lama recounts that Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun as a close friend, who had a liberal view and approach to ethnic minorities. Overseas China observers believe that junior Xi would gradually step into the shoes of his father to maintain his family legacy.
Unlike eras of four-generation leaders, fifth-generation leaders headed by Xi Jinping will be apparently different in many ways. Nowadays, Chinese people are more aware about its own government’s wrong and failed policies which reflect through number of protests in many parts of Chinese provinces and particularly Tibetans outcry against the regime’s hardline approach reached the breaking point that reflect through a series of self-immolations in different parts of Tibet. A Chinese government rule by the Communist party use the propaganda machine as a tool to disseminate biased information. Unfortunately, during those times, people had not much access to the outside world rather relied on its own government censored news and reports. The very remark of Mr. Xi during the proclamation of power transition was to reconnect with its people. Since, it’s quite clear that the propaganda machine has become ineffective and access to unbiased information has widened in China as well as Tibet. Despite intensified government crackdowns and Internet censorship, many Chinese intellectuals and netizens manage to jump beyond firewall and express their deep concerns for Tibet’s current political situation. Looking into such aspects would certainly bring hope for millions of people around the world who are waiting for Xi’s collective leadership to upgrade new version of reform, which is more liable and practical.
Not to forget about the growing number of Buddhists in China may prove another challenge for new leadership. Large numbers of Chinese devotees every year from Mainland China come to Dharamsala for Dalai Lama’s teachings and to know more about Tibetan Buddhism. For instance, last year alone, more than 1,000 mainland Chinese had attended Buddhist teachings gave by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, India, a place where Buddha attained enlightenment. On some press accounts, China’s new first lady Peng Liyuan is a Buddhist and more well-known in her homeland than her husband. When Xi joined PSC in 2007, the joke was “Who is Xi Jinping? He’s Peng Liyuan’s husband.” They have a daughter, who attends at Harvard under a pseudonym will likely to be counted under the banner of hope since I believe she is growing in a democratic environment where there is a rule of law and given every value of basic human rights albeit she may be a communist stalwart. People would suddenly disagree with this point but I would rather be on a benefit of the doubt.
China’s economic stagnation at the point is another serious challenge for new leadership. For the past six decades, China experienced great difficulties one which party still negotiates-the economic reform, up to now have been designed specially to maintain the rule of the CCP and enhance Deng’s strategy of “let some people get rich first,” of course some people were the leaders of the CCP and their families. The result has been a rich state and rich party with poor citizens. The fundamental problem lies with the Communist Party who has vested interest like state-owned enterprises, (SOE) the bureaucracy, the local government and the military. To maintain a sustainable economic growth rate, the new leaders have to be bold enough to go against their own personal benefits to avoid the revolt from the middle class in the non-state sector. The decision is in their hand whether to amass an enormous fortune by delegitimizing the Communist Party in the eyes of its own people, which could become a signal of downfall or bring meaningful reform that might prove party’s loss of power.
Some analysts have different view that Xi may boldly take up reform with his comrades. Initially, he wants to build robust support for his vision of change within the party members. Xi would probably experiment the idea of effective change in his second term, even though true economic changes need political transformation as well. “I think the emphasis is on continuity over change this time around,” said Bo Zhiyue, a scholar of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.
I believe China is on a do or die situation-Communist Party on one hand and reform on the other hand. It’s up to them whether to maintain the status quo or bring meaningful reform where there is an independent judicial system in which people have every right to evaluate and elect their government officials. This will bring transparency from top to bottom and a healthy sign of democracy.
Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.