Chinese Communists must reform but power comes first at plenary

euronews (in English)

by euronews (in English)

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The Communist Party of China is holding this year’s highly-anticipated plenary meeting starting this Saturday and running till Tuesday, discreetly at a hotel in Beijing. The 205 elite members of the People’s Republic Central Committee behind closed doors will discuss economic reforms but no one on the outside knows how far they’ll go, or how fast.

One year ago, the party chose a new secretary-general. Now Xi Jinping holds the three top posts in the country – president, party chief and head of the military. But his reform slogan is “Chinese Dream”.

Serious goals will be to make China less dependent on exports, and to invest in infrastructure. Growth must be balanced so there is gradually less strain on the environment and socially.

Analyst Joseph Cheng pointed out powerful obstacles: “The challenges are quite formidable, because serious reforms obviously will hurt the vested interests of the big state-owned firms as well as the interests of the provincial authorities.”

Demands for ambitious social reform have grown increasingly vocal, such as allowing farmers to sell the land they work; there’s also talk of abolishing requirements to stay living in the same place, which forbids 300 million people in rural communities from migrating to cities to get access to public services such as for health and education. There’s a huge imbalance between urban China and its agricultural hinterlands.

Farmer Shu Xiaodong said: “The government should subsidise us to buy planting seed; there’s drought; it’s really not easy for us. If you compare the countryside to the city, the difference is so great. The government has to subsidise us, so farmers can work harder and grow more food crops.”

Double digit growth models over 30 years have produced a huge rich-poor social divide, pollution and corruption. The party realises this and has identified key reforms, yet powerful factions within the Party ensure the brakes stay on.

Joseph Cheng said: “The leadership seems to be eager to maintain a certain political balance appeasing the left and the right in turn without gathering the determination to push for serious political reforms at least at this stage.”

Chairman Xi may be constrained to move slowly with changes, as the strongly conservative paramount leader consolidates his new position, though he knows that failure to address political and social ills in China could affect stability.