In the next week, China will unveil its new leadership, as the increasingly powerful country looks toward its future opportunities and challenges.
The Chinese political system is, in many ways, less complicated than that of the United States. Candidates for leadership have not spent billions of dollars on campaigning, and Chinese citizens will not be anxiously watching the votes come in to see who will guide the country forward. Instead, China’s ruling Communist Party will select from within its ranks those who will assume the leadership of the country for the next 10 years.
At this week’s event the Communist Party Congress, numbering more than 2,000 delegates, will meet for its equivalent of a party convention. At its conclusion, the new members comprising the Politburo Standing Committee, currently consisting of nine members, will be announced.
This is occurring at a time of great change for China. Seven of the current nine members will be stepping down due to compulsory retirement restrictions, meaning a new wave of leadership will have to guide China through a number of challenges it currently faces. The direction the new committee chooses will perhaps decide whether or not China continues to become a major world power, or instead stagnates and possibly even self-destructs.
For many, China’s closed and centralized power system is an outdated form of governance in what has otherwise been a rapidly changing society. When China opened up to market-driven economics under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s, unprecedented economic growth soon followed. As the country embraced foreign trade and investment, China’s economy soared, overtaking all countries except the United States by 2011.
With this success, however, have come a number of drawbacks. Not all of China’s people have felt the benefits of this growth, as the wealth gap between the rich and poor has continuously expanded. Millions of rural families and urban workers are struggling under the weight of poverty and poor health.
Concerns are also growing over China’s environmental conditions, stemming largely from poorly regulated industries using coal-fueled power stations. Sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are located in China as demand for goods has skyrocketed in recent decades, leading to even greater industrial output. The government is aware of this problem, yet with the pressing issues of slower economic growth and widespread poverty, the new leadership may struggle to prioritize the environmental issue without major outside pressure.
The biggest concern is whether China’s antiquated political system can continue to guide the country through economic development. Many suggest that China’s future success will depend on changes to the current order, a sentiment echoed by widescale political unrest and a recent slowing of economic growth.
The system has embraced much change since its days of being concealed behind the Bamboo Curtain, yet a lot remains to be done to encourage private enterprise and challenge the grip of state-run companies and bureaucratic inefficiency. China is perhaps on the cusp of becoming the strongest economic power in the world, but its own government threatens to choke this growth.
The decision over China’s new leaders, which has almost certainly already been made behind closed doors, is one of critical importance to China’s future. The country needs a fresh approach, which it may get in the form of Li Keqiang, tipped to be unveiled as the next premier.
Keqiang is a populist who worked his way up the party ranks from humble beginnings. However, he will answer to the new president and party leader, predicted to be Xi Jinping, who will replace the retiring Hu Jintao.
Xi is a conservative and big supporter of state-run business, and his ties to the old guard may prove detrimental to China’s future, unless he makes a surprise challenge to current conventions. Unfortunately, competition among internal factions plays more of a role in selecting leaders than does ability or vision for the nation, and so China may end up setting the wrong course for the next decade, at the end of which China, along with the world, could be a very different place.