New leadership for a new China
Last weekend, it snowed in Beijing. The storm was accompanied by gusty winds and it was the first snow I experienced this year. Three Japanese tourists visiting the Great Wall were trapped in heavy snow and died. Thankfully, snow on the roads and runways melted, so I escaped being trapped in a foreign land.
Every time I go to China, I feel changes. Most noticeably was the flow of traffic. On a Friday evening, I had a hard time finding a taxi in front of the Diaoutai State Guesthouse in downtown Beijing. My eyes were teary from the exhaust of cars jamming the street. I could smell acrid air. After waiting more than 30 minutes, I finally got in a cab, only to get stuck in traffic. It took more than 40 minutes to travel a short distance comparable to that between Gwanghwamun and Yongsan in central Seoul. It is not smart to take a taxi in Beijing at rush hour.
When I met my friend, the air quality and traffic in Beijing became a topic of conversation. I said it would be better for commuters to use public transportation, but he disagreed. He said he would love to take the subway or buses, but they are already packed. Who wants to be packed in like a sardine amid the polluted air and body odor? So he drives to work. When I said people in Korea generally use public transportation to commute, he said it would take Beijing about 20 years to reach such a level of infrastructure.
With shiny office buildings, luxury hotels, fancy restaurants and high-end department stores, Beijing is evolving into a cutting-edge global metropolis. On the surface, it looks spectacular. However, take a step inside and the shortcomings and drawbacks are obvious. My friend treated me to dinner at a fancy restaurant in a five-star hotel. The meal was expensive, and the food was great. But before we even finished, the staff began to clean up and organize tables on the other side of the restaurant. It seems that the software cannot keep up with the hardware. All over downtown Beijing are banners of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, which is held every 10 years to replace seven of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee. China has grown drastically, and it cannot fit into its old clothes. It needs a new wardrobe, and the new leadership is in charge of the task. Will China’s new leaders be able to prepare perfect-fitting outfits?
The four spirits of Beijing are patriotism, innovation, inclusion and virtue. China is a society where slogans are still needed. When these slogans disappear, China will become a true power. A small container cannot hold a large quantity of water. As more water flows in, the capacity has to grow. The world is expecting China to have a bigger capacity.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok