Archive for April 21st, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wen Jiabao’s Endgame: neither Law, nor Order

Wen Jiabao at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2008 (Wikicommons, click on this picture for source)

Wen Jiabao at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2008 (Wikicommons, click on this picture for source)

The State Council outlined the main areas of the economic system’s reform for 2011, on a regular meeting on April 20th, chaired by chief state councillor Wen Jiabao. Besides the usual buzzwords – stability, scientific development, and improving the economic system’s ability to react to economic challenges, capital movement and forms of investment (including private investment or 民间投资) were high on the agenda, too, according to Xinhua, as quoted by China National Radio (CNR).

Another prominent issue, though more familiar than capital issues, was the people’s livelihood (民生), in terms of income distribution and social insurance, both in urban and rural areas, and the establishment of an affordable housing system (住房保障体系). All that and more, plus basic public services – a concept that has been mentioned more and more frequently during the past months, mostly in connection with the concept of “social management”.

It may be tempting to focus on the issue of human rights violations alone. After all, such violations can most easily – and justifiably – be seen in simple terms. The CCP’s and its propganda agents’ attempts to sell it as something more “complicated” can be easily – and correctly -, be condemned. But sometimes, the question is asked if the current political stagnation will continue beyond the expected change in leadership in 2012 / 2013. To go beyond the obvious – that the CCP’s human rights violations are reasons to worry about our interactions with China -, and to “try to predict the future”, we have to go far beyond statements about how we feel. The past six or seven months have been decisive and should be looked at closely, and frequently.

One should bear in mind if there was anyone among China’s leaders who ever came (remotely) close to being a standard bearer of individual rights as the essential prerequisite for a functioning economy and a stable society, it would be Wen Jiabao – for a month, that is, from September to October 2010. But Wu Bangguo, the National People’s Congress’ (NPC) chairman and party secretary, trashed practically every idea of political reform, in favor of “social management” (see second part of this March 13 blogpost), in his work report to the 4th session of the 11th NPC. A Central Committee session in October 2010 – see next paragraph – had shown him (and Wen) the way.

Wen Jiabao is nearing the end of his second term as chief councillor, and party secretary of the State Council – he will probably step down in March 2013, along with the entire “fourth generation” of top leaders, including Hu Jintao (in his capacity as state chairman. As party chairman, Hu is likely to step down in November 2012). Only a month after Wen Jiabao had mentioned a need for reforms of our political system, People’s Daily hit back, in October last year: the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventeenth Central Committee had decided to adhere

to the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, upholding the party’s leadership, the role of the people as the masters of their country, the organic unity of government work and the rule of law, the active and prudent promotion of political restructuring, and the continuous advancement of the socialist political system, self-improvement, and development (党的十七届五中全会强调:“坚持中国特色社会主义政治发展道路,坚持党的领导、人民当家作主、依法治国有机统一,积极稳妥推进政治体制改革,不断推进社 会主义政治制度自我完善和发展”).

The editorial citing these central committee findings then interpreted them as an uncompromising adherence to “a hard-earned and efficient political system”. Given that People’s Daily is part of the CCP apparatus, this is exactly the way the central committee (more specifically: the politbureau) does view China’s political system. Wu Bangguo’s work report reflected the Central Committee’s endorsement for the political status quo.

Wen, who had pointed out in September 2010 that

if economic reform doesn’t get the protection that comes from reforming the political system, it won’t be fully successful, and even the achievements made so far could still be lost again,

will spend the remaining twenty-two months of his term as chief councillor on tinkering with the “economic system” alone. That the political system will become an issue once again within less than two years is highly unlikely – the times may be changing fast, but experience tells that CCP’s policies do not. In the light of the months preceding the numerous arrests of dissidents and other shitlisted Chinese citizens – Ai Weiwei is, after all, only one out of many -, one can quite safely predict that there may be more surprises from the CCP’s operational activities and reactions to changing times, but that there will be no more long-term strategic changes.

Bereft of all options to improve political protection for his economic reforms, Wen’s task starts looking depressing. Alright – Tingyi, a major food manufacturer, won’t increase the price for its instant noodles, China’s migrant workers’ most common lunch, writes Felix Lee, in a report for German weekly Die Zeit. This piece of good news about price stability, at least on one item of daily use, is meant to be a signal from the government that there are measures against inflation after all, writes Lee. “Our vigilance” – re inflation – “must never falter”, Wen is quoted by Lee. And to reduce liquidity, and therefore “hot capital” within the market, banks are told to recommend the purchase of gold to its customers, as gold absorbs liquidity without the effects that speculation on property (housing) or food would have.

That’s as much as Wen’s State Council can do for now. “The economic system’s ability to react to economic challenges” will mostly remain a theory, probably even beyond Wen’s last battle.

His most likely successor is Li Keqiang (Hu Jintao reportedly wanted him to become his successor as party and state chairman, but wasn’t able to get him accepted by the collective leadership, and Hu Jintao himself will be succeeded by Xi Jinping, who hails from Jiang Zemin’s political school.


Human Rights: throw them a Bone, April 16, 2011
China Developers Could Resist Cheap Housing Push, WSJ, April 11, 2011
Seasonal Considerations: Safeguarding “4.9”, February 19, 2011
Inflation: the Emperor’s new Thermometer, February 16, 2011

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