Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Political tension high ahead of China congress [Channel News Asia / AFP]

To reform or oppress? That seems to be the two prevailing attitudes in China. The 3,000 strong National People’s Congress is set to gather in a week-long meeting as the government seeks to outline its priorities for the year. Topping the list of concerns? High inflation and perceptions that the income divide is getting wider.

“It’s called ‘red-eye disease’. It’s jealousy – they hate how much money others are making.” China analyst Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

– – –

Political tension high ahead of China congress
Source – Channel News Asia, published March 1, 2011

BEIJING: China’s parliament opens its annual session this week in the most tense climate in years, after unrest in the Middle East highlighted a tinder box of social issues that have jangled nerves in Beijing.

The National People’s Congress, which is made up of about 3,000 delegates, has limited power and its week-long meeting serves more as a rally exalting the ruling Communist Party than a forum for real parliamentary debate.

But it is used by the government to outline its priorities for each year via an address by Premier Wen Jiabao at the start of the session on Saturday. Wen gave a preview last weekend — and offered a clear sign of official unease.

Wen pledged in a chat with Internet users on Sunday to tackle soaring inflation, a widening wealth gap and official corruption in the world’s second-largest economy.

Those are among the hot-button issues that sparked popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world, and which consistently top the lists of public concerns in China.

While no one views the Communist leadership in Beijing as under any imminent threat, it faces more pressure than in past years to come to grips with the rising expectations of its people, political experts say.

“I hope that there are new policies (in Wen’s speech) because if there are not it shows the government cannot meet the demands of the common people. This is a big problem,” said Bao Tong, a former senior government official who was jailed for opposing the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Topping the list of public concerns are high inflation and perceptions that vast numbers of China’s 1.3 billion people are stagnating or falling behind economically even as the country gets richer.

“People are still unhappy. The privileged classes in Chinese society are making so much more than others,” said China analyst Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“It’s called ‘red-eye disease’. It’s jealousy – they hate how much money others are making.”

The urgency of such issues was underlined in the past two weeks by mysterious Internet calls for weekly Sunday “strolling” rallies in 13 cities.

The calls have largely fizzled so far under smothering security, and there is little indication of a popular appetite for political change, said Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

But as China has developed, so have the expectations of its people, Bequelin said – particularly a Web-savvy younger generation that is increasingly making its voice heard on popular yet heavily censored Twitter-like microblogs.

“This brings home the concrete reality of social networks and the attitudes of the digital generation, who seem to take for granted things previously unthinkable for a Chinese citizen – things they had no sense of before the Internet,” he told AFP.

Wen is expected to seek to placate such constituencies during his address, with renewed pledges of equitable growth and fairness.

Many of these will be introduced through the prism of a new five-year economic plan approved by Communist Party leaders last year that envisions more sustainable growth, a reduced reliance on exports, and a greater focus on domestic demand.

In an unusual shift, Wen said Sunday that the government had set a seven per cent annual economic growth target for 2011-15, down from the usual eight per cent, and vowed growth would be less frenetic and more fair.

“There are also likely to be more handouts in terms of social security to help disaffected classes,” Lam said, including possibly tying social security payouts to inflation and improving medical coverage.

But the Congress, which will formally approve the plan, also will likely hear renewed pledges to crush “destabilising” forces.

President Hu Jintao warned recently of danger from “social conflicts” and authorities have already rounded up dozens of activists, according to rights groups.

Chinese authorities had already been on edge following October’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, which incensed Beijing.

No one expects any new signals on political reform at the Congress.

The top leadership is seen as turning even more conservative ahead of a pivotal meeting in late 2012 that will finalise the next generation of leaders.

“Two attitudes prevail in China. One is that if there is a problem, you must quickly reform. The other is to oppress,” said Bao.

“Which attitude will the leaders ultimately take? Only they know.”

– AFP/fa


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Channel News Asia, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Environment, Finance, Greater China, Influence, Media, National Medium- and Long- term Talent Development Plan, Nationalism, New Leadership, Politics, Population, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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