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With dramatic changes taking place in China since the mid eighties, Chinese political economist Minqi Li states that “after Deng Xiaoping, there has been a consensus among China’s ruling elites, among the party leadership, that China should move ahead in terms of capitalist development, move ahead in terms of neoliberal globalization, as well as not to challenge American hegemony. He goes on to state that within the Chinese Communist Party, “it’s no longer just about ideology; it’s also about real material interests. I’m talking about the real material interests for the ruling elites themselves.”

Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA (VOICEOVER): Beijing Olympics mark China’s debut onto the international stage, illustrating the dramatic change that China has undergone since the 1980s. In a series of interviews, The Real News senior editor Paul Jay spoke to professor, former political prisoner, and political economist Minqi Li.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li on the current situation in China. Minqi, what is happening inside the Chinese Communist Party? We understand there is a tremendous amount of pressure that these neoliberal reforms may have gone too far. There’s some issue of the Chinese Communist Party’s trying to address the inequality, particularly in the countryside. There’s a fight against corruption. Every so often we read about a major Chinese official who’s been arrested, occasionally even executed. What is the nature of the fight that’s taking place inside the party?

MINQI LI, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL ECONOMY: Basically, after Deng Xiaoping there has been a consensus among China’s ruling elites, among the party leadership, in terms that China should move ahead in term of capitalist development, move ahead in term of neoliberal globalization, as well as in the international stage not to challenge American hegemony. That’s the consensus. Within this consensus, however, under different administrations there has been different emphases. So, for example, under Jiang Zemin’s, the previous administration, you had this full-speed-ahead with privatization and this full-speed-ahead with trade and financial liberalization. And so, by the early 2000s, you have these growing social conflicts, and also you have very serious environmental degradation within China, growing environmental costs. So when this new administration came to stage under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, you have a changing emphasis. There have been some efforts to address the social conflicts, for example by removing the taxes on the peasants, by increasing some expenditures on rural health care and education, although by no means enough, in my opinion. And there has been some effort to alleviate the environmental costs, although the overall environmental situation in China continue to deteriorate. And despite these minor adjustments, the overall consensus has not been changed.

JAY: What is the endgame here? When they look into the future, what do the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party envision? Someday, do they say, they’re getting towards a new kind of socialism? Or do they look into the future and just see this managed capitalism for another 100, 200 years?

LI: Well, that’s the remarkable thing about China’s move. And as Deng Xiaoping said, you know, you just try to touch the stone and then try to cross the river. And I think they still follow this policy. They try to keep the endgame ambiguous, so that it can please everyone as far as the official slogan is concerned, but in fact they are pursuing what they want to pursue.

JAY: But these guys are old Marxists. I mean, they have to know that a capitalist economy inherently has great social inequality, especially a country of that size. Do they have some real plans for dealing with this?

LI: Maybe because after 1989 they were convinced capitalism was in fact superior to socialism, that may be part of the reason. And partly so many things have changed in China. So it’s no longer just about ideology; it’s also about real material interests. I’m talking about the real material interests for the ruling elites themselves. For example, there are rumors that the sons and daughters of various leaders of the Chinese Communist Party now run top Chinese businesses, including some financial businesses that are closely associated with the various transnational corporations. There are rumors that the wife of China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, is in fact the largest jewelry businesswoman in China. And there are rumors that one of the husbands of Wen Jiabao’s daughters is among the richest in China. So that give you some idea about, you know, where their interests lie. Yeah.

JAY: But to what extent is there a mass movement against this neoliberalism? Is there really oppositional movement? Or are most people going along with this?

LI: Well, you have very many spontaneous mass resistance throughout the country, and some of them are officially reported, some are not. But in term of the urban workers, who still have lots of resistance movement against the privatization, and in the rural areas, you have many spontaneous protests against land privatization.

JAY: But no political organization that would actually threaten the current regime.

LI: They have not yet formed a unified political movement. That’s correct. But if the Chinese social conflicts, environmental problems, economic problem continue to develop, and if China could not maintain China’s current record on growth 10 or 20 years from now, then all of these accumulated problems then would be very serious by then.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about one of the most serious problems facing China and the world, and that’s the climate-change crisis. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Minqi Li is an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah. He is the author of The Rise of China and The Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Pluto Press, 2009) and is the editor of Red China Website (a leading Chinese leftist website).  Minqi Li has published many articles in the field of political economy, the Chinese economy, global capitalist crisis, peak oil, and climate change.