Hu Jintao plots largely new road map for party
with Shirley Yam
I wonder how former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin felt listening to his successor's report at the party congress last Monday.
In his first report as the Party secretary-general, Hu Jintao has largely redrawn the party road map set by Mr Jiang at the previous party congress five years ago. While Mr Jiang then wooed the haves, Mr Hu is targeting the have-nots.
This change from a growth emphasis to 'growth with equality' is going to have significant policy implications for the social, financial and economic aspects of the country. The change is best crystallised by two of the 28,500 words in Mr Hu's report - per capita.
While Mr Jiang set a goal of tripling the 2000 gross domestic productivity by 2020, Mr Hu kept the target and timeline but altered the measurement into 'per-capita GDP'. This is much more than a simple mathematical difference. It brings in the political question of sharing the growth.
Mr Hu painted a picture of a society with 'a reasonable income distribution', 'a majority of middle-class', 'poverty eliminated' and 'basic social protection'.
Mr Jiang said 'primary income distribution [via salaries] should focus on efficiency enhancement ... to encourage some to get rich legally', removing the political taboo of handsome pay and share-option packages for the managers of state-owned enterprises.
Mr Hu said otherwise. 'Primary income distribution should strike the right balance between efficiency enhancement and equality; secondary income distribution [via fiscal measures] should focus more on equality.'
While Mr Jiang talked liberally about the importance of new economic forces such as private entrepreneurs and that 'one's political maturity should not be judged by how much he has', opening the party's door to 'capitalists', Mr Hu had one session (out of 12) dedicated to the betterment of people's livelihood.
He promised more investment in education, medical services and social protection.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying China will go back to the days when a general manager each month gets only one yuan more than the doorman. What I am saying is, as the leadership's emphasis changes from 'growth' to 'growth with equality', the capitalist force, which has had a good run over the past five years, will in future see more checks.
It's about the installation of minimum wages or even a wage increment system. It's about more efficient tax collection or even new taxes. It's about tougher tariff negotiations. It's about industry restructuring to check or break state monopolies. It's about a low-inflation-tolerance monetary policy.
It's about paying a higher cost, namely, 'the cost for a harmonious society', in doing business in China. (When did you last hear about officials complaining about the low percentage of unionisation? They did last week, talking about a target to install unions in at least 70 per cent of the corporations.)
Well, some of you may easily push the report aside as another lengthy political paper filled with motherhood and apple pie slogans and promises. After all, we've seen many examples of how Beijing's orders became futile.
It is important to remember it was in the party congress reports that China declared its decisions to open the door and to kick off agricultural reform.
Mr Hu is no saviour. There is every practical need and drive to bring equality, at least to some extent, into the robust growth that the country is experiencing.
Income gap has been widening. Social unrest has increased. Like Mr Jiang, who opened the party's door to private enterprise, Mr Hu's 'growth with equality' appeal is a fight for survival.
Yes, Mr Hu has been talking about a 'harmonious society' in the past few years. Yet, he has now installed his men in various government levels, possibly giving his mission a bigger push.
Of course, opposition will be strong. Mr Jiang's platform is all about the 'handing out' of goodies to those already in power. It faced strong ideological challenges from political fundamentalists but was swiftly implemented.
But when it's about 'handing down' goodies to the have-nots, the game is completely different. How well Mr Hu can navigate the shark-filled waters will decide his place in China's history.
Changing road map
Three times increase in per capita GDP between 2000 and 2020
Three times increase per capita GDP between 2000 and 2020
Efficiency enhancement and equality are equally important
Efficiency enhancement a priority
Improvement in people's livelihood
An individual session is dedicated
Not emphasised as a separate session
SOURCE: CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY