A top policy adviser to the government's economic planning agency says the Deng-era approach to reform has run its course and that the window of opportunity for moving to a rule-based system is limited.
'Our reform model of 'crossing the river by feeling the stones' can no longer go on,' Zhang Yansheng , said yesterday referring to the doctrine of pragmatism championed by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping at the start of the mainland's 30-year programme of economic reform and opening up. 'Instead we should shift towards reform based in rules and law.'
Renewed calls for institutional reform, both of the economy and politics, have been heard recently amid worries over the sustainability of the mainland's traditional economic drivers ahead of the once-in-a-decade change of the country's top leadership later this year.
There are concerns that core economic engines such as exports and investments are losing steam, while the mainland's edge in cheap labour seems to be fading - prompting calls to search for new means to support future growth.
Zhang, an economist and the secretary general of the academic committee of the National Development and Reform Commission, said while the government played an important role in economic development in the past 30 years, there had been few means to draw a line between those in power and vested interests.
He told an audience at the Asia-Global Dialogue 2012 in Shenzhen the next five to eight years would be the country's last and most important chance to implement reforms based on the rule of law. 'If such reform does not take off, China will run into big trouble, big problems,' he said.
Zhang's comments echo recent calls for top-down political reforms, and stand in contrast to activist Chen Guangcheng's remark in New York last week that China's challenge was not a lack of laws but 'lawlessness' among local officials.
Mao Yushi, a well-known liberal economist on the mainland, said an over-dominant state-owned sector, diminishing social mobility, and the government's priority in maintaining stability were all throttling China's development.
The economic slowdown amid the euro-zone debt crisis may weaken the government's resolve to shed its reliance on traditional economic growth models. 'Whenever economic growth slows, people get nervous and start thinking more policies need to be issued. But this slowdown is part of a normal process,' said Wang Yiming, an NRDC think-thank economist.