China's future leadership to inherit fortune and burden

A man walks past a logo of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at a media center for the upcoming CPC 18th National Congress. Photo: Reuters

When the new top leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are elected at the 18th CPC National Congress, slated to convene on Nov. 8, they will inherit great wealth from the past success while facing unprecedented challenges.

The CPC's achievements, especially those made in the past decade, are praiseworthy -- a point acknowledged even by some skeptical Western media.

The CPC ushered in efficient management for the world's most populous country, bringing China back to the center stage of world affairs.

In the past decade, China has become the world's second-largest economy, the world's biggest manufacturer and exporter and the owner of the world's greatest amount of foreign exchange reserves. Not since the Opium War in 1840 when the country was crashed by Western powers has China held such power.

The country's growing middle class and the drastic decrease in the number of people living in poverty all testify to the CPC's ruling capacity and will generate future development opportunities.

China's potential has yet to be tapped in terms of industrialization, urbanization, informationization and agricultural modernization, as pointed out by Premier Wen Jiabao at the Summer Davos Forum in September.

Economic restructuring has become more noticeable recently, with new economic zones, which used to be located almost exclusively along the country's eastern coastal area, extending inland.

In the first three quarters of this year, inland provinces and municipalities have outshined their coastal counterparts in terms of the economic growth rate. Green energies, high-tech industries and some other emerging industries are moving into China's central and western regions.

Many experts believe that in the long term, China will thrive due to its strong political leadership and great market potential.

"With growing integration with global development, China is able to make full use of markets and resources, both internally and externally, to achieve its growth," said Qin Gang, a professor with the teaching and research department of scientific socialism at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

China is stronger and now has more room and power to maneuver its development than it did 30 years ago. Meanwhile, more advanced experience from other countries is available for China to learn from, he added.

"Apart from the improvement in its all-around strength, China shows another significant competitive advantage -- a whole set of self-created mechanisms with which it can respond to challenges, which have been revealed and proven effective," he adds. Qin cited China's countermeasures taken in response to the 2008 global financial crisis as an example.

Secure Economic Growth and Bring Justice

However, as the world economy retreats into a recession and China stands at a critical point of restructuring in its economic growth model, China's leaders will have to counter a slew of challenges lurking up ahead.

China's economic growth rate slowed to 7.8 percent in the first half of this year, its bearish stock market dragged on and public complaints and frictions have crept up over government officials' corruption, pollution and the widening wealth gap.

"The most serious issue facing the Chinese government is to secure economic growth and, simultaneously, to make sure all members of society benefit from this," John Ross, former director of Economic and Business Policy in the administration of the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and currently a visiting professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University, told Xinhua in an email.

"Great emphasis has to be laid on creating jobs, easing financial pressure and improving the income distribution system, both before and after the 18th CPC National Congress," said Ding Yuanzhu, a researcher at the decision advisory department under the Chinese Academy of Governance.

The ebbing of the demographic dividend, accompanied by the increasing burden of a rapidly aging population, will exert greater economic pressure on China's new leaders, experts say.

In 2011, the percentage of the workforce in China's total population dropped for the first time. China is aging quickly. It is estimated that the country's senior population, or those above 60 years old, will hit 243 million by 2020, accounting for 18 percent of its total population.

A cheap labor force has been a strong advantage in propping up China's growth in the past. As the labor force shrinks, however, China will have to optimize its economic structure to ensure its development is more sustainable and efficient. The country will also have to pay more attention to public welfare.

Since reform and opening up started in 1978, the average Chinese person has benefited from the country's economic development. But, despite the high annual GDP growth rate, China is far from being an industrial nation, as its per capita GDP ranked around 100th worldwide and problems that are common in most developing countries can be found in China, as well.

China's gaping income gap, for example, is noticeable. The country's Gini coefficient, an index reflecting the rich-poor gap, stood at 0.3949 in rural areas in 2011, approaching the warning level of 0.4 set by the United Nations. The figure was 0.33 in urban areas, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In addition to the disparity between the rich and the poor, Ding Yuanzhu believes that China's new leaders will have to tackle the development imbalance between China's well-off coastal regions and its less developed hinterland, as well as that between urban and rural areas.

To address the income distribution imbalance, the Chinese government has moved to formulate a comprehensive plan. The plan, which is scheduled to be completed within this year, has already garnered much attention from both the public and the media.

Another problem confronting China's new leaders will be public concerns over natural resources and environmental pollution, which have been the direct cause of several recent protests. The public has pinned high hopes on the government's efforts to strengthen ecological protection after the 18th CPC National Congress.

Ensure Voices of Public Be Heard

The advent of social media, such as Twitter-like service Sina Weibo, has become a channel for people to vent their anger as well as enhance public supervision of officials' corrupt practices. Future leaders of China will have to make sure that the voices of the public echoing across social media are heard and not neglected.

China has undergone tremendous changes, both socially and economically. "In a society with more diversified interest patterns, the common people have become more outspoken when confronting with issues concerning their own interests," said Ding Yuanzhu.

Zhao Chenggen, a professor with the School of Management at Peking University, believes it is necessary for the government to increase exchanges and interactions with the public to improve social management.

"Everybody's ideas and comments have to carry some weight in decision-making, be it public policy or public service," he said.

A very effective way to resolve issues like corruption, environmental degradation and food safety, which directly correlate to people's interests, is to increase public involvement in the decision-making process, Zhao said.

"It is not like 30 years ago when China could allocate economic resources and ensure effective governance in a planned way," Ding said.

"After the 18th CPC National Congress, I think the CPC has to be more creative in adapting to a more diversified society and economy," he said.

Share Interests with Foreign Countries

In the past 30 years, China has benefited from globalization. At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, China is defined as a regional power. It is a different international environment from the one it experienced 30 years ago.

Huang Shujin, a research fellow with the National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army, believes that prominent external factors that will affect China's strategy in the near future include intellectual property rights, competition for resources, trade wars and territory disputes.

Analysts have pointed out that Western powers are shifting their strategic focus to Asia, which, combined with other factors, will escalate conflicts between China and some neighboring countries.

Nevertheless, Qin Gang, the professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, believes that in spite of territorial disputes and some other frictions, relations between China and the rest of the world will be relatively stable due to overlapping, shared interests.

He expects China to continue to have a relatively stable and peaceful environment for its development.

"The international community could benefit from China's fast-paced and stable advance, and their participation in China's development will enhance China's competitive edge," said Ding Yuanzhu.

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