What Will New Leadership Mean for China

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Minqi Li: New leadership committed to capitalism in China but will they be able to deal with coming global crisis?

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

And in China, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is taking place—a very significant one, as there is going to be a major transformation or transition of leadership of the Communist Party of China. Now joining us to discuss all of this is Minqi Li. Minqi’s an associate professor at the University of Utah specializing in political economy. He’s also the author of the book After Neoliberalism: Empire, Social Democracy, or Socialism? And he was a political prisoner in China from 1990 to 1992. Thanks for joining us again, Minqi.

MINQI LI, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS, UNIV. UTAH: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: So talk a little bit about what we’re going to witness here. And is there going to be any change in the course of China? And what do we know about the new leadership?

LI: In this congress it is expected that the current generation of the top leaders of the Communist Party is to be replaced by another generation, but I don’t think that is going to involve any significant policy change. And, in fact, in the political report Hu Jintao [snip] made yesterday, and he reconfirmed that the Party is going to neither pursue the wrong path of changing the banner or flag or going back to the old path of Maoism. And so basically they are going to maintain the status quo.

JAY: Now, you know, there’s been recent articles in The New York Times—and, of course, it’s not that new to people that follow this story—but that people at the top level of leadership have amassed, in fact, billions of dollars. Is there any reason to think that’s going to change? I mean, there’s all the talk about campaigns against corruption, but how do you wage campaigns against corruption when the top leaders’ families seem to be either—essentially involved in it?

LI: That is a very good question. In fact, the party leadership has to a large extent been transformed from what used to be the idealist revolutionary party into, now, a club of capitalists. And so in addition to reported accumulated wealth by the top leaders, such as Win Jiabao, so in addition to that, there are also some openly capitalist billionaires that have been representatives—among the representatives of this Party congress. And some of the billionaires are expected to become members of the Party Central Committee.

JAY: And who are the new top two expected to be?

LI: Well, after this current transition—and it is expected that Xi Jinping, who is currently the vice president, and Li Keqiang, who is currently the vice prime minister, are expected to become the new two top leaders, with Xi Jinping expected to succeed Hu Jintao to become the general secretary of the Party, as well as the president of the republic. And then Li Keqiang is widely expected to become the next prime minister.

JAY: And do you expect any change? You know, there’s been a lot of talk about even in terms of the sustainability of the Chinese economy there has to be more rights for workers, there has to be—wages need to go up, there has to be an increase in internal demand in the domestic market. And of course that’s at odds with the export model. Is there any sense they’re going to deal with this any differently?

LI: Well, before the Congress, there have been lots of discussions, talks about the so-called political reform by the mainstream media, as well as the Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily. But it does not appear that workers’ rights are going to be on the agenda. And certainly significant redistribution of wealth is not going to be on the agenda.

JAY: And so what does this mean? CBS reports—and we’ve seen many reports before—literally 500 or more protests a day in China. At what level is that opposition movement amongst ordinary people? How serious is it getting? And how’s this going to unfold?

LI: Well, it appears that these kind of so-called mass incidents do increase year after year. And, in fact, this year we have some quite large-scale mass protests that took place in the Sichuan province, in the Jiangsu province, and in Jiujiang province [sic], and in some cases the local people that involve maybe between tens of thousand to hundreds of thousands basically took over the local governments. So, definitely the costs, both the social and the environmental costs of China’s current model of development will tend to increase in the future. But for now it seems that the Party is not doing anything and is not taking any necessary step to address these concerns.

JAY: And if you look at the global economy, these sort of austerity policies that are being followed in Europe, and more or less in the United States—it seems unlikely President Obama, even if he wanted to—and it’s not clear that he has any intention of further stimulus, but given the politics here, it doesn’t look like there would be much stimulus. So if recession continues and perhaps deepens over the next three, four, or five years, which a lot of economists are predicting, how does China deal with this? Their markets and their export model continue to erode, one would think.

LI: Well, in that respect, of course, China is still in marginally better position than the United States or Europe. And so the Chinese government still has some space or room for policy maneuver. And so in case the global economic downturn deepens—and presumably the Chinese government could counter that with more public spending. And so in the next two or three years, I don’t expect serious crisis to happen in China. But like what I have said in the previous interviews, I do expect that if these economic and ecological contradictions accumulate in the next few years, a much bigger crisis could happen in the next five or ten years.

JAY: Yeah, ’cause some of the economists we’ve talked to are talking about, you know, a decade or two of recession, unless there’s some sea change in public policy.

LI: Yes.

JAY: So what does that mean for China? You said two, three years. But if we’re looking at the rest of this decade and, you know, China does seem to plan a little further into the future than the West does, they must see this coming.

LI: Well, they pay lip service to these economic problems, to environmental problems, and in this latest political report, Hu Jintao again emphasized the importance of ecological civilization. But he pretty much did the same thing ten years ago, but no meaningful change has happened. So I don’t think it’s likely that they are going to undertake meaningful change. So the most likely scenario is for various problems to continue to unravel in the next few years, and then, when the crisis happens, maybe the change would be forced upon them.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Minqi.

LI: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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