October 15, 2007


The Emperor Has No New Clothes, Hard Times For Hu's New Deal (Xiao Qiang, 2007-10-14, China Digital Times)

Chinese politics after the death of Deng Xiaoping are intriguingly similar to those of the KMT after Chiang Ching-kuo. The first-generation successors to the strongman, Lee Teng-hui and Jiang Zemin, were accused of the "chaotic rule of turncoats", whereas their successors in the next generation, Ma Ying-jeou and Hu Jintao, whose political loyalty and moral standards were acknowledged, came in for criticism as "showy but useless." Clearly, this was closely connected with the "party world" of both the KMT and CPC encountering unprecedented crises of legitimacy. These would inevitably bring the ruling party serious crises of trust and morality. The inability to distinguish loyalty from treachery was the basis of Lee Teng-hui's and Jiang Zemin's problems. We now have a chance to see a different problem arising from legitimacy crisis in the "party world"—one of people who have no problems of political loyalty and personal integrity, but who are unable to accumulate sufficient political strength and political resources. This is what underlies the problems facing Ma Ying-jeou and Hu Jintao.

Lack of sufficient political power and resources was the reason Hu was forced to share more power and risks with the princelings. Hu never thought highly of the princelings, but, faced with rapid development of major crises, particularly the imminent crisis of Taiwan independence, he had no choice. Otherwise, he not only incurred too much risk for himself, but also unacceptable levels of risk for the power strata.

What does the 17th National Party Congress imply for the Hu-Wen New Deal formed after the 16th CPC National Congress? The governing principles of Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji's can be summed up as "give official power its head, but juice up the economy." Hu became aware of the harm and tremendous danger brought about by this approach, and so the essence of the "Hu-Wen New Deal" of the past five years was "stabilizing the economy to improve the people's livelihood." However, the practice proved that for every yuan increase in welfare Hu and Wen gave the poor, the money the bureaucrats placed in their own vaults increased by 10 yuan, or even more. Hence if official power is not controlled, it will be difficult for Hu and Wen's New Deal to show results in improving the people's livelihood. And what's worse is that the serious crisis of China highly unfair distribution of wealth will be impossible to resolve.

The key to the success of their New Deal lies therefore in whether they can contain official power , and change from "stabilizing the economy to improve the people's livelihood" to "restraining official power to improve the people's livelihood".

Can Hu and Wen manage such a New Deal after the 17th National Party Congress? The power game around the Congress shows that it will be difficult. The most likely development is that they will place "improving the people's livelihood" before "stabilizing the economy." It now appears that Hu Jintao, having come to power as a lame duck at the 16th National Party Congress, is likely also to step down as one at the 18th. In all this there have been historical forces which have lain beyond his control. However, while Hu is unlikely to preside over a "renaissance" of the CPC regime, he has still has not completely lost the chance to leave a name in history. It depends on how he fends for himself.

This is an expectation that has been quietly building up done in recent years among those who liked to dream about serving the emperor. Faced with the reality of a Hu Jintao who can rule only by endlessly issuing slogans, these spin-doctors were still trying to convince people that that Hu's absurd and empty initiatives, such as the "education for maintaining progressiveness," were not only a last resort, but strategically profound. Hu Jintao's inscrutable personal style may have helped him win the favorable expectations of some people, including foreigners, but time and circumstances finally led to more and more doubts about the emperor's new clothes. When the 17the National Party Congress confirms that Hu's heir-apparent Li Keqiang, had actually been replaced by Xi Jinping, still more people will realize that the emperor is in fact naked.

For a country with such massive social problems to devolve into aimless kleptocracy can't help but end disastrously.

China, beware: The country's rulers care too much for their own welfare, and too little about the rural peasants (The Economist, Oct 11th 2007)

Another way in which Mr Hu and his comrades could help the peasants would be to divert some of the double-digit annual increases in defence spending to help the estimated 40% of China's villages that have no access to running water. The trouble is that China's military build-up has become the measure of the party's commitment to another nationalist cause that it has stoked in an effort to bolster its tattered credentials: the eventual recovery, by persuasive hook or military crook, of the island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

So far the combination of this appeal to nationalism and the pursuit of economic growth at almost any price has helped the party maintain its grip. But just as China's periodic shrill threats to Taiwan threaten the stability of the wider region, so the plight and growing anger of China's peasantry are a harbinger of potential trouble ahead at home.

It is trouble that China's Communist Party is increasingly ill-prepared to deal with. For all Mr Hu's rhetoric about greater internal democracy, the party is too fearful for its own survival to open itself up to a genuine clash of ideas. Although a few brave voices have called for that (see article), there has been no open debate in the run-up to the congress about how to address any of China's pressing rural problems. To add to their burdens, China's peasants are saddled with a ruling party that is too worried about its own survival to spend more than a little lip-service on theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 15, 2007 12:00 AM
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