Chinas parliament opened its annual meeting here on Tuesday amid
high hopes that the new government it will choose will tackle long-
awaited economic reforms and rampant official corruption.
But Xi Jinping, the ruling Communist Party leader who is due to
be elected as Chinas president next week, and Li Keqiang, who will
become prime minister, will face daunting obstacles as they seek to
launch a new economic era at home and meet their citizens
increasingly vocal demands for improved livelihoods.
Expectations are high that the new leaders are for real when they
talk about clean government and reforms, says Wang Zhengxu, an
analyst at Nottingham Universitys China Policy Institute, in
Britain. But resistance from those who want to block reform will be
The 2,987 delegates to the National Peoples Congress will play a
largely ceremonial role as they listen to speeches, reports, and
deliberations over the next 12 days at the flag-bedecked Great Hall
of the People on Tiananmen Square.
No National Peoples Congress vote has ever gone against a
government proposal, and no candidate for high office put forward by
the Communist Party has ever been turned down.
Though Mr. Xi and Mr. Li are shoo-ins for their new jobs, their
elevation is not without significance. It marks the smooth
culmination of a once-in-a-decade transfer of power only the second
time in modern Chinese history that such an institutional transition
has been achieved.
Reorienting the economy
Xi and Li will take the helm of a country that has enjoyed
average annual gross domestic product growth of 10.5 percent for a
decade, which has transformed the Chinese economy into the second
largest in the world. But raw growth is not enough anymore and is
anyway bound to slow down, says Kerry Brown, head of China Studies
at Sydney University.
As the economy cools (in his opening speech to the Peoples
Congress Tuesday, outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao predicted 7.5
percent growth this year,) the new government will have to reorient
it away from dependence on heavy state investment and exports and
toward the more sustainable foundation of domestic consumption.
At the same time, Chinese economic reformers have been insisting
for some time that for the sake of efficiency the government has to
stop coddling the giant state-owned enterprises that enjoy
monopolies over the commanding heights of the economy, and start
giving private companies a greater chance to compete.
The rise of state capitalism has been strangling private
enterprise, which is the real source of long-term economic growth,
says Zhang Jian, who teaches politics at Peking University.
Cutting state-owned firms down to size, though, would be more
than an economic challenge. The development in recent years of a
crony capitalist system, in which senior Communist officials have
used their political power to channel control over economic
resources and great wealth to their relatives, means that
reforming the state sector would directly challenge the interests of
powerful political figures. …