After once-in-decade leadership changes, Alexander Green discusses whether China can face up to its ever-growing list of problems and truly cement itself as a global superpower…
In the last few months, world politics has been dominated by the US presidential election. It’s been on the front pages, back pages, the news and the radio in close to every nation of the globe – in fact, you’ll probably still hearing about it even though its now over. It’s unsurprising; the next US president is essentially the de-facto leader of the world.
Or is he? In fact, may believe that position may be soon be taken up by the Chinese state president; the incoming Xi Jinping. Indeed, whilst the West has been floundering around with its economic crisis – and the continuing aftermath of social unrest at the austerity measures imposed to deal with it – China has continued to grow and is now firmly established as the world’s second large economic powerhouse.
Yet, whilst its economy continues to grow, the boom years – with an average of 8% annual growth during the last 30 years – looks set to be over. China therefore faces the challenge to try and keep the growth sustainable, with a turn towards higher household consumption and a greater role for the service sector; otherwise, the bubble may burst.
The economic liberalization has also created issues in itself; the disparity of income and living standards between rich and poor is ever increasing with wide regional differences.
The proliferation of state corruption too – of money disappearing down black holes, land-grabs by officials and the continual bypassing of environmental regulations – shows a regime struggling to control itself.
Indeed, the walls are falling in somewhat on the ruling Communist Party (CPC); its repressive control of everyday life and constant abuse of power is no longer going unchallenged. In the last decade, there has been also been a dramatic growth of protest and civil disobedience with as many as 360,000 such incidents in the last year. The Chinese are at last questioning the leadership of their nation and they want more freedom.
In reality, these isolated incidents are not signals of a populous discontent, but for the paranoid security state that is China, they are seen as dangerous signs.
Political reform has not been forthcoming, however. Instead, of trying to deal with the underlying social issues and the party’s own corruption, the CPC’s way of dealing with such issues has been a crackdown. The construction of a massive $100 billion internal-security apparatus charged with a mandate to keep Weiwen; stability. In other words, the creation of secret prisons, beating up protestors and political opposition as well as censorship of the media and internet.
Such actions only seek to create a self-perpetuating cycle where the lack of political and social freedom create further instability and unrest; moreover, they look unlikely to stop the rot. Helped by the internet and development of social media, there is growing number of dissent voices within the state. In the past, the CPC has been able to bottle up such notions, but no longer.
One things for sure though; with China’s economy set to overtake that of the United States in less than two decades, the future looks to no longer be the post-Cold War unipolar American world of the last two decades. But without dealing with its swathe of internal problems, it’s unlikely to be a Chinese-led one either.
Maybe though reforms will occur; China, after all, remains a mysterious place especially in the Mao-lined upper echelons of the country’s communist party. What’s in store for the next ten years remains therefore very much unknown.