12 Nov 2013

China’s goal: Gorbachev without the mistakes

The 3rd plenum of the 18th Party Congress in Biejing has finished and published its thoughts
and they really are worth a read.

This is the declaration launching a new leap in economic liberalisation that the Chinese leadership wants to take at the same time as not loosening its grip on the country – quite a trick, if they can pull it off. This is another stage in trying to get more economic goodies while holding on to a Leninist centralised system. The communique talks of deepening “economic structural reform, accelerat(ing) the perfection of modern market systems.”

The language is by turns florid and opaque:

“… let all vitality in labour, knowledge, technology, management and capital compete and burst forth, let all sources fur the creation of social wealth fully gush out …”

Imagine that in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement. Talking of which, you can’t help but wonder if the 24 hour delay in the Autumn Statement made necessary by the timing of David Cameron’s trip to China hasn’t delighted China’s senior figures as a show of strength – they’ve refused his previous requests to visit, stuck for an extended period on the naughty step and virtually confined the UK Ambassador to Beijing to barracks for more than a year. The immediate cause of the “deep freeze” treatment was David Cameron’s (not to be repeated) meeting with the Dalai Lama, but I hear from one recent top-level visitor to Beijing that the regime didn’t much like some of the UK’s language over China’s stance on Syria either. 

As David Cameron will discover when he returns to China for the first time since 2010, the economic reforms are being swathed in much Maoist sloganising and iconography, although the communique from this weekend’s Congress decrees:  there must be no “marching the old road of closedness and fossilization.”

What the Chinese leadership is trying to do is what one old China hand here in London described to me as “Gorbachev without the mistakes.” The Chinese Communist Party has spent enormous amounts of time pondering where Gorbachev went wrong. How do you reform but stay in power? The answer, they’ve decided, is to deliver economic growth, the Chinese Dream. But there are great obstacles to doing that, not least the demographic ones – you see some of them explained here .

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