Rome (AsiaNews) – The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party opened today in a Beijing hotel. Its official task is to draw up the country’s next five-year economic plan (2011-2015). Many observers expect however that it will be a venue for discussions about leadership questions and political reforms.
The 300-member Central Committee (204 permanent members and 167 alternate members) will convene on Saturday in the presence of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, to discuss the 12th five-year plan.
The new plan should not entail any major change. After various drafts, the plan should continue to stress the importance of reigning in the unbridled growth of the economy of the last few decades, which have raised China to the rank of second largest economy in the world, but also turned into one of the most polluted places on earth with a widening gap between haves and have-nots.
Social inequalities have in fact become a major source of dissatisfaction and unrest. A survey by the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences found that 70 per cent of respondents believed that the gap between rich and poor led to “hatred of the rich”, with most singling out “people profiting from illicit activities” as the main cause of the increasing wealth gap.
In his latest study, Dr Wang Xiaolu of the Institute of National Economy estimated that corruption had a 9.26 trillion yuan price tag in 2008, or 30 per cent of the national GDP.
Given such a divide, which could bring China’s economy to a breaking point, the Central Committee is hard pressed to come up with plans for “inclusive growth”, President Hu Jintao’s new pet idea for a more balanced distribution of wealth in favour of hitherto excluded social strata.
Redistributive policies are especially needed since China can no longer rely predominantly on foreign markets. The latest worldwide recession has shown the limits of its export-oriented development model and highlighted the importance of getting the domestic sector to pick where lower exports will leave off.
It appears however, that “inclusive growth” does not include political reforms. Recently, Wen Jiabao’s proposals of such nature caused a stir when he warned, “Without the safeguard of political reform, the fruits of economic reform would be lost and the goal of modernisation would not materialise” (See “Shenzhen, political reforms and the ambiguities of Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao,” in AsiaNews, 7 September 2010).
What is significant about Wen’s remarks is that they were not even reported by Xinhua, which leads many to believe that various factions within the party are fighting over political reforms, both in terms of their content and their extent.
A few days ago, former top officials defended Wen Jiabao, calling for freedom of the press and an end to censorship by the party’s propaganda bureau. Nevertheless, scepticism is warranted when it comes to political reforms, especially since Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, one of signatories of Charter 08, had already proposed political reforms, only to see his efforts rewarded with 11 years in prison for “subverting state power”.
Another issue that is on the Central Committee’s agenda is the possible promotion of Vice President Xi Jinping to the post of deputy chairman of the Central Military Commission, which would make him the de facto successor to President Hu Jintao whose mandate ends in two years time.
Xi and Li Keqiang, the second vice president, are respectively touted as Hu and Wen’s successors respectively. Both are thought to be liberal and possibly inclined towards political reforms, starting in 2012. On the other hand, both Hu and Wen, when they came to office, had pledged political reforms that never materialised.
Indeed, for some observers, the first “reform” could be letting the public see Central Committee debates rather than keeping them safely behind closed doors far from the prying eyes of journalists.