2009 had been the “most difficult one” for China, writes Han Yonghong (韩咏红) of Singapore’s United Morning Post (联合早报), with a deepening international financial crisis, receding export opportunities as a result, sensitive anniversaries, public anger and resulting mass incidents, and sharp political criticism on the internet. But then again, it had also been the year where China had forged ahead, becoming a great country on equal footing with the United States. All in all, 2009 had been a successful year, writes Han, but besides the rapid economic rebound, there was still a lot of unfinished business. The biggest changes for the CCP’s policies in 2010, according to the impression the statements of its leaders are leaving, would be the people’s livelihood, the people’s livelihood, the people’s livelihood (民生、民生、民生). On the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (中国人民政治协商会议全国委员会, or 政治协) New Year’s tea reception, CCP Secretary General and State Chairman Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) had emhasized that the quality and the benefits of economic growth needed to be improved, more attention needed to be paid to the improvement of the people’s livelihood, that lower [i. e., local] party officials needed to push the good trend of rural development further, that the peasants’ incomes shouldn’t remain static, and State Chief Councillor Wen Jiabao (温家宝) explained that the gap between small cities and rural areas should be reduced, that the treatment of migrant workers needed to be improved, and that the living standards of farmers needed to be improved.
The leadership hasn’t addressed the issue of the people’s livelihood for the first time, writes Han Yonghong. In 2009, Beijing provided free textbooks for primary and secondary schools, increased teachers’ incomes and pension funds, etc. The difference between then and now is that in 2009, those were emergency measures, with local governments reacting to discontentment, worried by contradictions.
Behind the concept of reducing the income gaps between small cities and rural areas there is the aim to increase incomes, to create domestic demand, thus creating sustainable growth, writes Han, which would correspond with a speech by Wen Jiabao in September, where he pointed out that “expanding China’s domestic demand is the long-term strategy of China’s economic development” (扩大内需是中国经济发展的长期战略方针).
Closely related to the people’s livelihood are the Three Big Mountains (三座大山), and among these – medical care, education, and housing -, medical reform may also be promoted. It was said that the medical insurance draft had gone through several discussions and amendments, and this new draft was certainly the main point in the government’s provision of public health and basic medical services, and it was hoped that urban workers, staff and residents plus the farmers’ participation in medical insurance (农民参保) would be at above 90 per cent. Besides, at the end of last year, the Central Economic Work Conference (中央经济工作会议) had pointed out that urbanization (城镇化) needed to be stadily advanced, and that the problem of how migrant workers should settle in urban areas needed to be resolved – which would also help to distribute public services more equally to the citizens.
To accomplish these tasks, the governments needed to become more determined, writes Han Yonghong, and the political system itself would need reform, too. In that field, the government’s approach was cautious, and could achieve the effect of relieving social contradictions, but in an environment where civil rights weren’t clearly stated, even revised public policies wouldn’t necessarily bring benefits for disadvantaged groups.
So is it all the usual talk with little action and even less local effects? [*)] Experience suggests that. Then again, even if the next generation of leaders should be even less inclined than the incumbents to care about the “countryside”, demographic data make it abundantly clear that it is make-or-breaktime, and that it is now.
And for avoiding “social contradictions”that could actually lead to the much-trumpeted big chaos (大乱), not only medical care, but the pensions systems too, need to be assured, even if only at a very low level. Chinese people may settle with very little, and old people with even less, but China is a rapidly-aging society. The window of opportunity has become extremely narrow. “China aims to gradually set up a series of networks for the aged, including social endowment assurance and a looking-after service, by 2010″, the Beijing Times wrote – in 2002.
*) Double-pasted text deleted. This post was heroically written on a very unstable online connection.