China begins political transition
A WEEK-long behind the scene political transition began in China yesterday with President Hu Jintao calling for a new Chinese growth model, marked by greater domestic demand and private enterprise, to ensure the long-term health of the world’s second largest economy.
Also, the Chinese president has warned that the Communist Party faces “collapse” if it fails to clean up corruption and called for an economic revamp as he opened a congress to inaugurate a new slate of leaders.
Hu, in a speech opening the pivotal Communist Party congress amid a slowdown in economic growth, said China must recalibrate an export- and investment-led growth model increasingly seen as unsustainable.
But as the party leaders meet, some reform-minded citizens confronted the Chinese security apparatus to express their predicaments.
An old woman yesterday came to Tiananmen Square to draw the attention of Chinese rulers to her woes, but as the Communist elite met nearby to proclaim its commitment to a “people’s democracy”, police dragged her away.
In a scene repeated countless times a day across China, the woman cried as her documents were seized and she was led from the square as an elderly friend was bundled into a police car.
But just around the corner, China’s ruling party gathered in the red-draped Great Hall of the People for the five-yearly congress. On a stage lined with red and white flowers, and a giant Communist star shining in the centre of the ceiling, Hu – the party’s highest official and China’s outgoing leader – addressed row after row of party bureaucrats in regulation dark suits.
“In response to changes in both domestic and international economic developments, we should speed up the creation of a new growth model and ensure that development is based on improved quality and performance,” he said.
Communist leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao – due to step down in March as part of the leadership transition – have long called for the country to rebalance its economy by fostering domestic consumer spending.
As Chinese transition is unfolding, America’s impatient political pundits are already turning their attention to the next election in 2016 as President Barack Obama returned to Washington and plunged into a newly energised political debate over how to shrink the chronic federal deficit and debt in the wake of his stronger-than-expected re-election victory.
Tuesday’s election results effectively preserved the political status quo, with Obama winning a second term and Republicans holding their majority in the U.S. House while Democrats keeping control of the Senate.
It is an irony, however, that the two leading economies are transiting at the same time but on different dimensions. The two nations are also engaged in row over economic and financial issues with the U.S. arguing that China is over protective of its currency and market to the detriment of other nations. The U.S. has vowed to take China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
However, the looming question was whether freedom from having to face the voters again would prompt Obama to push harder for a compromise against China and the Republicans at home that might anger core liberal supporters.
At the same time, Republicans stung by their defeat in the presidential race and their inability to seize the Senate faced pressure from inside and outside the party to soften their fierce partisanship and adopt more moderate positions that might bring about agreement on tough issues.
The U.S. faces a “fiscal cliff” – a combination of expiring tax cuts and required, across-the-board spending reductions set to occur at the end of the year absent a congressional deal to avert it.
Meanwhile, the fields on American political arena are wide open for the next election, Fox News.Com claimed yesterday.
Democrats have no shortage of candidates who appear capable of picking up the party’s mantle after Obama: Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo are at the top of that list.
And there are plenty of Republicans potentially lining up to launch White House bids after Mitt Romney’s loss on Tuesday — with vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan now high on most lists, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Other Republican possibilities include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Christie, a first-term governor, was one of the top names tossed around early in the 2012 cycle but he never warmed to the idea of running, saying he was focused on serving New Jersey. Like Romney, he’s a Northeast Republican from a blue state, but his fiery temperament is the polar opposite of Romney’s.
When Obama won, China’s foreign ministry said Hu had congratulated the U.S. president on his re-election, and noted the “positive progress” in bilateral relations over the past four years.
Spokesman Hong Lei said the premier, Wen Jiabao, had also sent congratulations, while state media reported that Xi Jinping, poised to take over as China’s leader, had phoned Vice President Joe Biden.
But a commentary from the state news agency, Xinhua, said mutual trust had been “whittled down” in Obama’s first term, although there was now a new opportunity to improve ties.
“As the two countries have been ever more economically interwoven, a new U.S. government perhaps should start to learn how to build a more rational and constructive relationship with China,” it added.
But many in China are struck by the contrast with their country’s own leadership transition, a process that formally begins with the opening of the 18th party congress yesterday.
On the one hand, the handover is deeply mysterious, with the new elite selected behind the scenes by current leaders and party elders.
Yesterday too, Japan called on China to use its sea power peacefully, after Hu staked a claim in Beijing for his country to become a maritime force.
Tokyo said its neighbour must act as a “responsible member of the international community”, a challenge it has made to Beijing repeatedly in recent months, as tempers have flared over a disputed island chain.
“It is not surprising to hear leaders in (China) speak about their intention to engage in maritime activities,” Naoko Saiki, deputy press secretary at the foreign ministry, told reporters in Tokyo.
“But those activities must be carried out in a peaceful manner based on international law.”
Meanwhile, Hu has warned Taiwan against any moves towards independence but called for the two sides to continue the exchanges that have helped ease their longtime rivalry.
“We resolutely oppose any separatist attempt for Taiwan independence,” Hu said in an address to his ruling Communist Party’s five-yearly congress.
“The Chinese people will never allow anyone or any force to separate Taiwan from the motherland by any means,” Hu said in the speech.
China regularly issues such warnings on Taiwan but relations between the two sides have warmed considerably under Hu. Semi-official talks between China and Taiwan resumed in 2008 after being suspended for more than a decade