Rome (AsiaNews) The 5th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will take place on October 8-11. The event is important for two reasons. First of all, it will examine the 11th five-year plan that sets the direction in which China's economy and society are supposed to gothe People's National Congress will approve it next march. Secondly, it will be the first major party event in which Hu Jintao will appear as supreme leader after taking over the Party's leadership (2002), the country's Presidency (2003) and Military Commission's Chairmanship (2004).
Inequalities and the economy
Overseas economists are euphoric about China's economic growth that is currently averaging 9.3 per cent. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently forecast that China is on track to becoming the world's biggest exporter and fourth-largest economy by 2010. However, many local observers are warning that economic growth is uneven and generating growing inequalities and a widening gap between haves and have-nots, the situation is such that cities are pitted against rural areas, those with jobs against the unemployed. And all this is fuelling growing social unrest.
As China's Public Security Minister Zhang Yongkang noted, the official number of mass protests has gone from 10,000 in 1994 to more than 74,000 in 2004.
The worsening corruption within the ranks of the Communist Party problems is aggravating the widening social gap. Graft and kickbacks now account for at least 5 per cent of GNP.
Official corruption in party has become systemic, with party officials colluding with private businessmen to create monopolies, exploit workers, hire and fire them at will and make quick profits at the expense of the vast majority. Against all this the government seems impotent.
Recent reports showing that the central government has made pitiful progress in forcing party and government officials to sell their stakes in mining projects is a vivid example.
Another example is the country's unfettered industrialisation which is causing increased pollution in its cities, rivers and coastline.
To make matters worse, the population has to put up with inadequate health care, especially in the countryside. Mortality rates are thus rising and pathogenic outbreaks (such as bird flu, pig-borne diseases and AIDS) are becoming more common.
China's education system is also under-funded (one of the lowest in the world) and this is preventing many young people from getting the training they need; some, unable to cope, are even pushed to take their own lives.
Whilst spending more money and focusing more on caring for the poor would help, alone they cannot solve the underlying problem, i.e. China's failure to implement much-needed political and economic reforms that would include better redistributive policies and ways to tackle corruption.
Indeed, economic reforms and greater social spending in education and health care are needed to quell social strife. Democratic reforms are imperative if corruption and land grabs and violence against people are to be stopped.
Things are getting so bad that the CCP's Central Party School warns that income inequality could reach a danger level in five years.
The fact that official media have started highlighting failures that once were taboos or considered state secrets signals that the central government is ready to act.
Hu Jintao's power
Since taking over Hu Jintao, aided by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, has repeatedly called for efforts to build a "harmonious society" and "putting people first".
Attempts to stop anti-farmer violence, lower taxes and punish corrupt party members have so far brought little change. The Central Party School warned that inequalities and outbreaks of violence have worsened since 2003 when Hu became party Secretary and President.
The relative ineffective leadership Hu has exerted so far has usually been explained away by pointing to the fact his power was not fully secure, that he still faced former president Jiang Zemin's Shanghai faction and the influence it yielded in the politburo.
Now however, most analysts concur that, except for a few fringe elements in the military, Hu Jintao is in the driver's seat since he became Chairman of the Military Commission last year, the more so since Zeng Qinghong, a Jiang protégé, and politburo members Wu Bangguo e Huang Ju crossed over to his camp.
With Hu as supreme leader, social control has increased; NGOs, media internet and pro-democracy groups are under tighter scrutiny.
When some months ago, some soldiers and officers demonstrated to demand better salaries and pensions, Hu's answer was to ban all demonstrations by the military.
Even within the party, moderates associated with the late Zhao Ziyang have to walk a tightrope, afraid to speak publicly about the latter's liberal reforms of the 1980s.
Demonstrations and actions against sudden takeover of private companies by the state have been banned. Protests calling for justice against local party bosses have been prohibited
Hu's religious policies are contradictory. On the one hand, his vision of an "harmonious society" includes paying heed to the needs of religionshence, new churches are built; old one are restored; links, however tentative, with the Vatican are forged. On the other hand, the arrest of underground Church members and clergy point to the still strong tendency of wanting to control everything. This is why China's refusal to allow four Catholic bishops to go to Rome on Pope's Benedict XVI's invitation can only provoke embarrassed silence.