Saturday, June 11, 2011

China’s Changing of The Guard

Ramifications for "Social Harmony"

Mao and the next generation

The linked article speaks to China standing at the crossroads as it moves forward to late 2012 when the fifth generation of Chinese leadership will take their seats at the helm of the fastest growing and, potentially, the most volatile country in the world.

Thirty two years ago then China's Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping  implemented far reaching reform and opening up policies. Policies that would see drastic changes to the very fabric of China’s society, culture and economy. 

These policies see a vastly different China today then the one that existed then. A China that has experienced the most astonishing economic growth in history, to a point now, where it stands as the second biggest economy in the world and poised to overtake the United States in the not too distant future.

But this economic miracle has not been without it’s costs particularly concerning China’s social stability, or “Social Harmony” as it is generally referred as.

Rapid growth has seen many changes in China’s society and culture. The move to a “market economy” on the principle, pretty much, of “laissez fare” has seen seismic shifts in wealth distribution in China, not only as between rural and urban dwellers, but also within urban areas between the emergent “middle class” and the others.

As well there has been drastic changes between regions within China with the coastal regions growing exponentially and the central and western regions lagging considerably behind.

The “market economy” policy allows money to flow to those regions and industries that have “competitive advantage”, in the case of China, this means the coastal areas, areas that have ready access to export facilities, relationships with foreigners and transport infrastructure.

Prior to the “opening up” internal investment was centrally controlled. Money was divided up reasonably equitably between regions and provinces. Post “opening up” this has changed with Government money following private money. As the coastal  regions grew so did government investment in those areas to support the private sector’s growth. This investment was diverted to a degree from other areas. Thus, the likes of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and many central provinces such as Qinghai' went backwards in their share of the national pie, becoming relatively poorer.

Rural industries likewise suffered vis a vis manufacturing and exporting industries causing a rural/urban-industrial income divide, exacerbated by the drain of rural workers to the factories and construction sites of the coast. 

On an individuals level inequities have became apparent and continue to grow. With wealth pouring into China a new “Middle Class” emerged and continues to expand. Educated, urban, worldly, technologically savvy and growing considerably more affluent, they wield not inconsiderable power economically and politically.Thus a middle income trap came into play where the government pandered to the wealthy to the neglect of the others.

On top of these "food in the mouth" issues there are others eating away at China’s “Harmony”. 

Rampant corruption consumes the nation. This is not a new phenomenon, it has been a way of life in China for millennia. What has changed is that with new avenues of communication, a rise in general education standards, the growing disparity between the haves and the have nots the latter are asking “What about me?”

Rapid industrialisation also has seen the need for land to build factories and infrastructure and many times this has been acquired without due concern for the original occupiers. Repossessions, forced evictions and the like have seriously affected millions. The Three Gorges Dam project saw the relocation of some 1.24 million people, the Beijing Olympics saw an estimated 1.5 million relocated,  forcibly, in a lot of cases.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Such land grabbing has brought immense pressure on the available supply of housing stock, particularly for low income earners, with the resultant increase in rent and decrease in the quality of accommodation not to mention the dignity of those affected.

Another issue is the phenomenon of China’s “Migrant workers” or Mingong. As the term implies they are a 225 million strong floating and marginalised group wanted by no-one but the businesses they slave for.

Hailing from rural areas they work for little money, in the worst conditions, living in substandard accommodations and without the protections and welfare support of China’s Hukou Registration system or Organised Labour. The potential for social disharmony issuing from this class of citizen is incalculable. A recent riot in Chazou in Guandong province proves that the potential for discord is bubbling just below the surface.

And finally not to mention the perennial problems and potentiality for disturbance in Xinjiang, Tibet and, now, rumblings in the normally quiet Inner Mongolia. Not only are there ethnic/cultural differences at play but these inherent problems have been further exacerbated by all of the foregoing.

Maintenance of "Social Harmony" a Must

The maintenance of Social Harmony has to be of paramount importance in China, a country of 1.3 billion, and there is disquiet within the Chinese Communist Party that the government has allowed “liberalisation” “opening up” “market economy” and “peaceful rising” policies to have gone too far. That in fact the policies are impacting very negatively on Social Harmony”.

Just recently the State owned press organ People’s Daily has had several editorials and op-eds on issues relating to “Social Harmony” such as CCP discipline, Co-Operation, Religious Freedom and pace and style of democratic reform  One editorial piece Bring social cohesion into full play sums it all up.

This all goes towards proof that with the “Riot Season” upon them the Chinese government is very concerned at the moment.

Thus, China is at a  very important crossroads and all bets seem to be that, with the new generation, there will be a stepping back. A change not particularly to a Mao type era but certainly back to a more Marxist Socialist ideology that has been departed from over the last 30 odd years.

China has enormous issues to contend with and there are many, many more then have been touched on here, none the least being energy, pollution and food. The list is seemingly endless. 

The CPC knows that it has to get the balance right for it is to survive well into the future and priority above all priorities in China is the survival of the Chinese Communist Party.

How this will be achieved and how it will pan out in terms of Social Harmony is really anybodies guess. As they say it is hard to stop a horse once it has bolted and there is a hell of a lot of “Social Harmonising” to be done.

And the world should wait with bated breath.

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