OLD Media Moves

Asking for more coverage of China

November 7, 2012

Posted by Liz Hester

Since I’m avoiding writing about the presidential election, let’s take a look at some of the recent coverage of China in the business press. Besides being totally fascinating, the Communist party will officially select its new leader this week in a much different fashion than the U.S. chooses leaders.

Behind closed doors on Nov. 8, Communist party elite will select the next decade of Chinese leadership. Here’s a good explanation from the Washington Post editorial board:

Two days after Americans vote, a very different political process will get underway in China. The result is known, and it has been for five years: Xi Jinping, 59, a career apparatchik, will be installed as general secretary of the Communist Party, the country’s most powerful position, while Li Keqiang will be “elected” as his deputy. How or why the two men were chosen is unknown outside the highest echelons of the Chinese leadership; their political inclinations and plans for China are also a matter of guesswork. It’s not clear who will serve with them in the party’s Standing Committee, which makes decisions by consensus, or even how many members the committee will have.

What is clear is that the political system the leaders will inherit is under growing pressure. Many within the Communist Party’s elite — not to mention the country’s rapidly growing middle class — consider the status quo unsustainable. Under the previous leaders, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the economy quadrupled in size, and China emerged as a global power, but the Stalinist structure installed by Mao Zedong in the 1950s remained essentially unchanged. Even Mr. Wen appears to think that is untenable. “Without successful political structural reform,” he said this year, “new problems that have cropped up in China’s society will not be fundamentally resolved.”

All that change isn’t just confined to the top ranks of China’s ruling party. From Tuesday’s New York Times is this fascinating article about Chinese citizens pushing back on factories and other economic development because of environmental concerns. Here’s an excerpt:

China’s economic boom over the last three decades has depended overwhelmingly on a build-at-all-costs investment strategy in which pollution concerns, the preservation of neighborhoods and other such questions have been swept aside. But that approach is starting to backfire, posing one of the biggest challenges for the new generation of Chinese policy makers who will take over at the Communist Party Congress, which starts on Thursday.

New investment projects used to be seen as the best way to keep the Chinese public happy with jobs and rising incomes, assuring social stability — a paramount goal of the Communist Party — while frequently enriching local politicians as well.

But from Shifang in the west to the port of Ningbo in the east, where a week of sometimes violent protests forced the suspension on Oct. 28 of plans to expand a chemical plant, more projects are running into public hostility.

In many cases, they are running into opposition not just from farmers who do not want their houses and fields confiscated, but also from a growing middle class fearful that new factories will lead to more environmental damage.

In response to this and other worries about the economy, a number of influential officials and business leaders in China have stepped up their calls for changes aimed at increasing the efficiency of investment and simultaneously shifting the country toward a greater reliance on consumption.

Some of those leaders are even calling for political reform according to Reuters. From that story:

China’s outgoing leader and his likely successor are pushing the ruling Communist Party to adopt a more democratic process this month for choosing a new leadership, sources said, in an attempt to boost its flagging legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

The extent of the reform would be unprecedented in communist China where elections for the highest tiers of the party, held every five years, have been mainly exercises in rubber-stamping candidates already agreed upon by party power-brokers.

The Communist Party, which has held unbroken power since 1949, is struggling to maintain its popular legitimacy in the face of rising inequality, corruption and environmental degradation, even as the economy continues to bound ahead.

President Hu Jintao and his heir, Xi Jinping, have proposed that the party’s 18th Congress, which opens on Thursday, should hold elections for the elite Politburo where for the first time there would be more candidates than available seats, said three sources with ties to the party leadership.

The Politburo, currently 24 members, is the second-highest level of power in China from which the highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, is chosen.

No matter who will lead China into the next decade he’ll have much to navigate within and outside the borders. Issues will include currency, exports, government subsidies, internal demand for more freedom, call for freedom on the Internet and other information, dissidents, cultural preservation, technology and navigating the world’s politics. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Let’s hope journalists continue to keep their eyes on the situation. Our future depends on it.

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