Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

XI Jinping's Political Economic Transformation and Its International Implications: A Preliminary Assessment

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

XI Jinping's Political Economic Transformation and Its International Implications: A Preliminary Assessment

Article excerpt

A Brief History of Recent Political Economic Developments

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past," Karl Marx wrote in 1852. "The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living." Although leaders of the hierarchically organized Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and Xi Jinping above all, who came into power in uniquely favorable circumstances and has proceeded to strengthen his position since, would seem to be in a much better position to cast off this "nightmare," the truth of Marx's aphorism applies no less here. Thus to understand where Xi Jinping is going we first need to see where he is coming from. Despite the Tiananmen "incident," the Party-State that Xi ascended was far more firmly institutionalized than the shambles Deng Xiaoping inherited from the Cultural Revolution. His smooth ascension was relatively unmarred by factional strife and the apparatus was united in defense of the solid achievements of the reform era, symbolized in 2010 by surpassing Japan's GDP to become second largest economy in the world. Though some were disappointed in the lapse of reform under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the decade had also posted the nation's most rapid sustained GDP growth since the early Great Leap Forward, and China's survival of the Global Financial Crisis that tipped most developed economies into prolonged recession without a single year of negative growth convinced many that the PRC was on the right track. (1) The popular and elite expectations that greeted Xi's rise were hence mixed, as were the political resources he had on hand to fulfil his unexpectedly vast ambitions.

In the aftermath of Tiananmen China found itself surrounded by Western nations triumphantly jubilant about the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and looking forward to the inevitable collapse of the PRC with unconcealed Schadenfreude. Economic GDP growth plummeted to 4 percent in 1989 and 1990, exacerbated by Western economic sanctions. (2) In 1991-1992, many of the leading reformers having been purged, a reverse current arose within the leadership arguing that reform was a dangerous ideological deviation and demanding a return to socialist orthodoxy. (3) But Deng Xiaoping in his famous Southern Voyage [nanxun] curtailed the discussion of "isms," arguing that the country's troubles (and those of the former Soviet Union) had been caused by too little reform rather than too much. He pushed many of the conservative elders who had supported his crackdown into retirement and instigated the 14th Party Congress to endorse a "socialist market economy" as the goal of reform. The Chinese people were encouraged to "dive into the sea" [xia hai] of economic transformation and avoid further political experiments. "Opening to the outside world" was pushed hard to overcome Western sanctions as China expanded SEZ rules to the whole of China and liberalized its investment regime to facilitate more FDI. Foreign policy priorities shifted to developing countries and particularly to China's Asian neighbors to circumvent Western sanctions. Zhu Rongji was promoted to vice premier, then premier to lead the reform effort. The economy responded with rapid growth and double-digit inflation, brought under control by tight money and a slowdown induced by the Asian Financial Crisis by the end of the decade.

The 1990s under Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji can be generally characterized as political/administrative centralization (from "one down" to "two down" for central appointments, return to CCP nomenklatura recruitment) and economic liberalization, the latter accelerating toward the end of the decade in preparation for China's bid for WTO membership. Jiang introduced "three represents" to permit private entrepreneurs and other useful "new class" elites to enter the Party. …

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