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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 4:13am

Hope fades for reform and power sharing at the top

Five-year wait a political stalemate as vested interests too significant and too deeply intertwined for change to come from the top down

As a journalist, I am happy to see my prediction of a conservative-dominated Beijing leadership come true. As a Chinese, I am not.

Yes, I have seen suggestions that the next five years will allow time for Xi Jinping to consolidate his power and reformers will be able to join the Politburo Standing Committee when the five members retire in 2018.

Yet, I cannot agree this as a mere five-year delay in reform. It is not the dawn of hope that things will get better as Jiang Zemin comes to the end of his life and his power reduces. Rather, it's the beginning of hope fading.

This leadership change is not just another reshuffle. This is one that happens against the worst scandal in the Chinese Communist Party's history.

Less than eight months before the reshuffle, the public saw the fall of a Politburo member and potential leadership heir Bo Xilai.

They were told Bo has accumulated more than US$6 billion in graft; plotted a coup against the incoming leader Xi Jinping; protected his wife from a money-related murder; and was promiscuous. All these were divulged to the Americans by one of Bo's subordinates. They were told Bo was protected from any arrest by his allies at the top until the interference of four retired state leaders.

There cannot be an uglier expose of the party's illness. This is a political nuclear bomb that should have released sufficient energy for a shake-up in the party and further power sharing among rival camps at the top.

Yet, it did not.

Jiang has managed to elbow out most of his rivals from the Politburo Standing Committee. The corruption problem and political reform received only feeble reference in the report of outgoing leader Hu Jintao.

The truth is the underlying vested interest (or should I say the money at stake) is simply too significant and too deeply intertwined at different strata for any power sharing to happen.

Why would five years or the ultimate death of Jiang bring a fundamental change to these interests? The bigger the economy, the greater the interests at stake.

Calling this stalemate a "delay in reform or power transfer" is offering false hope. It is nothing more than a pacifier to the educated who have been calling for a "top-down political reform" for the country.

This top-down approach according to some would throw China into chaos and gradual reform initiated by the liberals at the top suits the country best.

It is best elaborated by mainland economist and former senior vice-president of the World Bank Justin Lin Yifu. His three-hour weekly lecture at the Peking University used to draw a 500-turnout. I was among it.

I have heard this belief about top-down reform again in Britain from various mainlanders doing postgraduate studies there. They saw Bo's case as a possible trigger point for the change.

How disheartened they are now? I don't know. Most of them are now home and it is difficult to talk to them. What I will bet on is the rise of social unrest and demonstrations.

China is entering an era of lower growth. Yet, under the new leadership, what the public will continue to see is lots of policy initiatives and promises from the premier and little, or nothing, in terms of action from the ministries.

Remember the income redistribution policy initiated by outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao to reduce the difference between the state and private sectors?

Wen proposed this in 2004, a year after he became premier. The policy is in its eighth year. There has been lots of table banging and little progress. His successor Li Keqiang has shown little track record of being a more powerful "doer".

You can't blame the bureaucrats. Money and power is at stake. What's more important is that there will be another reshuffle in five years. Why put your head out when you are not sure who the boss will be?

To a parent struggling with rising bills reading about the 100,000 yuan pay of a meter reader at a state-owned power company and seeing little hope of change on the horizon, how much will it take to get him or her to join a protest? Not much.

The optimists will say the rise in unrest and demonstrations would force the leaders to seriously address the problem.

Unfortunately, this is not what we have seen in the history of the Communist Party and the country. In fact, at least two of the new leaders have notorious records of cracking down on public unrest and gagging the press.

I have painted you a picture of slow growth, little reform and increasing social unrest for China under the new leadership. Once again, as a Chinese, I hope I am wrong.

shirley.yam@scmp.com

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xiaoblueleaf
The economy is inevitably slowing down. Money will continue to pour into the SOEs while the private sector will continue to suffer to the point of near-collapse so as local governments coming to face bankruptcy as tax revenues shrink and appropriate of land exhausted. The Party which is most paranoid of losing control on the population (aside from losng its lion share of "oil water") will face its own "fiscal cliff" of either freeing to some significant degree control of the private sector allowing more resources such as bank credit to flow in or free fall down the cliff. More and more dissatisfaction and protests among the populaace will continue. By then, the time may come for a "China Spring" whether it may take the next 5 years or 50 years for such scenario to happen.The rise and fall of dynasties will repeat itself just the same asseen in our history of 5000 years.
whymak
" The Party ... will face its own "fiscal cliff" of either freeing to some significant degree control of the private sector allowing more resources such as bank credit to flow in or free fall down the cliff.... By then, the time may come for a "China Spring""
If like you say, the Party could free bank credit, how could you tell the difference between fiscal and monetary? Your leap of faith of China's implosion is remarkable for your illogicality and economics illiteracy. As the dumbest white folks say, "can't tell your a** from the elbow."
Next time when you read the English media, make sure you spend sometime understanding white men's jargons before you regurgitate them.
lucifer
If you are short China, this is good news for that means the economic implosion is that much closer!
doctorh
Why would you want China to implode? Billions of people will be affected...
Stop being short sighted and caring only about your needs.
lucifer
Imagine a computer with a virus that is not working properly. Is it better to keep using it, while your files are deleted and your hard drive irreparably damaged? Or, would it be better to hit the reset button?
Either way, it is clear who is benefitting the most from China's "economic miracle," wouldn't you say so? Nonetheless, kicking the can down the road is a strategy that does not bode well for the future. If you are an investor, you can see the trend is going this way.
doctorh
The global economy is tightly integrated and anything that happens to any economic power (US, China, Europe, etc.) will have serious ramifications on many millions of lives and their estate and welfare. Your desire to break up a country for 7 million people against a backdrop of millions of people on other countries is pure nonsensical. I don't think you'll agree of course but it's people like you that only care about your own narrow view rather than the global perspective that leads to disaster afterwards.
whymak
Obviously, jpinst doesn't give a hoot about the billions as long as he can ingratiate himself with other Hong Kongers by indulging in shared Schadenfreude for China and/or Chinese.
Come to think of it, the grumpy old man's anger expressed by Mr. Lu Ping now comes across as the picture of moderation compared with the deranged intransigence of street demonstrators -- spurred on by the likes of Emily Lau Wai Hing, Wong Yuk Man, Cardinal Zen, Lai Chee Ying and many others.
May Mao Zedong and Her Majesty the Queen save us from the impending apocalypse!
captam
@"Once again, as a Chinese, I hope I am wrong."
Don't worry Shirley. You are wrong (again) !
ianson
The conservative grip on power foretells unrest and violence to come on a scale far greater than Tien An Men 6 April 1989. These new leaders will be the ones to struggle with it and lose in the end.
captam
@"The conservative grip on power foretells unrest and violence to come on a scale far greater than Tien An Men 6 April 1989"
Absolute rubbish!
The intelligent management of the PRC's steady transition from the policies and excesses of Mao's era will continue on track peacefully because the overwhelming majority of her people are content with their Government and the progress brought by improving living standards and other reforms.
whymak
Thanks for your wishful thinking. Please leave us your contact email address or whatever so we can check back on you in another 5 years. Are you hoping for Hong Kong to collapse along with China?
Is cutting your nose to spite your face so painful that you confuse June 4 with the 6th of April?
 
 
 
 
 

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