[Viewpoint]Changes in China

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[Viewpoint]Changes in China

The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China opened on Monday.
Overseas China watchers are reacting to China’s biggest political event in an unusually calm way.
Since China opened its doors and embarked on reforms, the National Congress has been held five times, once every five years. Each time, the event drew extraordinary attention from abroad.
In the National Congress and the following meeting of the central committee, China’s top leaders and major figures are usually appointed and new policies and visions are presented.
Things are the same this time. But this year’s National Congress did not draw attention because it was not expected to bring about big changes in personnel affairs or policies, unlike the previous events, which served as turning points in Chinese society.
Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Communist Party of China; Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress and Wen Jiabao, the premier, are the three major figures in the leadership of China, and there is almost zero chance of them stepping down.
The next generation of leadership, such as Xi Jinping, secretary of the Shanghai Committee; Li Keqiang, party secretary for Liaoning Province and Li Yuanchao, party secretary for Jiangsu Province, have long been expected to enter the central stage.
There is one slight difference this time. Hu Jintao was chosen as a candidate for general secretary long before he was appointed.
So as a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, he has gathered experiences on major party affairs for 10 years.
But at this time, the candidate for general secretary is not to be decided, although only five years are left before the fifth-generation leadership appears.
It is expected that no one figure will be chosen as the candidate but a group of candidates will be selected.
That is because there is no charismatic figure, like Deng Xiaoping, so different factions must compromise.
That can be interpreted as a seed for new conflicts or insecurity in the process of the transition of power.
Or it can be viewed as an effort to rule out the possibility of one-man rule, and that certainly suits the principle of group leadership better.
When several candidates compete for the top position, democratization of the party can be accelerated.
What is sure is that the advent of these people is a preview of changes in China’s politics.
It is impressive that they are young, all in their 50s.
More interestingly, they have doctoral degrees in economics from Peking University and in law from Tsinghua University and in law from the Central Party School, respectively.
Their educational backgrounds imply that many manager-type figures who studied the humanities will be employed in the future, while leaders who studied science and technology have been employed so far.
That means the country will focus on providing the security for its people as much as on economic development.
The Chinese leadership has put an emphasis on harmony and development of science and technology.
Accordingly, it has modified its strategies for the country, from growth in quantity to growth in quality, which is better for the environment.
The policy to develop areas along the coast was modified to one for balanced development across the country. Its policy has been changed to care more about the deprived class, including farmers or unemployed people, than entrepreneurs and the elite.
In this year’s National Congress, it is likely to be decided whether this policy will be included in the Party Constitution or not.
This move can be seen as a demonstration of the strong will to push the policy ahead.
Now the era of rule by a charismatic figure with authority is over.
According to how the Communist Party of China handles state affairs, including improving people’s lives, the party’s legitimacy will be evaluated and its leaders will be chosen.
The National Congress will serve as a chance for General Secretary Hu Jintao to gain a more secure grasp on his leadership as his second term begins.
Will China succeed in improving both its economy and its people’s lives? Will it thus establish its legitimacy so as to avoid joining the mainstream flow of democratization?
In doing so, will China be able to display its unique one-party politics, just as it showed a unique model for economic development?
The world is waiting for the answer.

*The writer is a professor of politics at Sogang University and chairman of the Korea Academic Association of Contemporary Chinese Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chun Sung-heung
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