The "new" Hu Jintao era begins
by Bernardo Cervellera

The president, secretary and chairman of the Military Commission stresses the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Military's role also strengthened.

Much is expected from the handover of Jiang Zemin's last remaining office to his successor Hu Jintao.  Already with Hu Jintao's rise to the top of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and subsequently to the nation's presidency, "change" was the buzz word when it came to China.  Today, many people are expecting political reform, greater dialogue within the international community, d├ętente and economic revival. But how is post-Jiang China actually changing?

The day prior to the Central Committee congress, when Jiang tendered his resignation, Hu Jintao said unequivocally that a democratic structure like those in the West is unthinkable in China.Yesterday, Hu upped the stakes.  At the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), currently taking place in Beijing, he reaffirmed that the current political system is perfect for China.  Such a system -- he explained -- consists in the supremacy of the Communist Party with "multi-party cooperation" and a party government with "multi-party participation".  Hu called such a centralized structure "a party system with Chinese characteristics".

The CPPCC consists of representatives from the CCP, other small parties, organizations and associations (including representatives of religions).  These representatives are chosen by the United Front.  The small parties are accredited and the formation of new ones is prohibited.  So far, the CPPCC -- which meets once a year -- has had a decorative function only, being used more to validate the CCP's choices, than to let problems and needs emerge from the ground up.  It is true that in recent years, this entity has given voice to concerns over the environment, education, the use of internet, but it has never had any power.  As Hu has specified, it serves "to help and reinforce the CCP government".

His new incumbency as chairman of the Military Commission risks also reinforcing the armed forces.  From Deng on, China's military was reduced so that resources could be concentrated on the economy.  Jiang Zemin himself was more interested in pursuing policies aimed at personal reinforcement and commericial protection, rather than military strategy.  But, by now, the tense international situation and the advent of high technology in the field of defence have for some time made greater professionalism and investment essential in order to strengthen and modernize the military.  This year's budget already foresaw an 11.6 per cent increase in defence spending over last year.

The point is that the Central Military Commission has been reorganized and extended to the highest ranking generals engaged in land, sea and air forces, as well as missile systems.  According to analysts, such a widening allows for speedier decisions and joint military action. Military development worries Taiwan, forever under the threat of invasion if it dares proclaim independence for the "rebel" island.

From the economic point of view, significant changes are not expected to the market economy "with Chinese characteristics".  To ensure greater balance in development in China, Hu has already launched the proposal to develop interior regions (Deng and Jiang gave precedence to coastal regions).  But, for the CCP to regain legitimacy, the big campaign that the party must win is the one against corruption. 

The commission supervising party members has already said that it intends to fight corruption "up to the highest levels".  As proof of this, at the end of the Central Committee plenum, former minister Tian Fengshan was expelled under accusation of having pocketed millions of yuans. 

The disciplinary commission also set new rules for the internal election of cadres and for the resignation from public office. 

According to new rules, members of the party that resign must wait 3 years before taking positions in commercial enterprises. 

Experts are not hopeful.  Yang Fenchun, professor at the University of Beijing, appreciates on one hand the new, very "detailed" rules, but also points out that "the party has been trying to set rules for itself for years, but the results are not encouraging".  For academics and sociologists, real popular democracy is the only bulwark against corruption.