Political reform in China: the way to go

People watch a speech by Xi Jinping, the new head of the Communist Party of China, on 15 November 2012 (Photo:AAP).

Author: Hu Shuli, Caixin Media

In the 18th Party Congress report, the single area that has justifiably generated the most attention is references to political reform.

But, in fact, views on this report will rely entirely on initial expectations.

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Chinese economic reform: how the US should prepare

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discusses the future of US-China relations at an event held to celebrate the anniversary of the state visit paid by Richard Nixon to China in 1972. The event was co-hosted by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Richard Nixon Foundation, at USIP in Washington, DC, on 7 March 2012. (Photo Flickr user: US State Department)

Author: Derek Scissors, Heritage Foundation

The US government suffers from understandable but harmful confusion concerning Chinese economic reform.

Market reforms have been most often implemented gradually, and that slowness is misperceived to be moderation. In fact, when market reforms have occurred, they have been clear and powerful. Read more…

China’s big economic and political choices

A photo taken on 11 March 2012 of Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang, vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihou and then-Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai at a plenary session at the National Peoples Congress in Beijing, China. The Communist Party of China on 15 March 2012 said it had replaced the party leader of Chongqing city, Bo Xilai, with Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang after recent scandals over an anti-crime drive and the downfall of its police chief. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum

There were more than a few surprises in the events that surrounded the Chinese National People’s Congress in Beijing last week.

All of them underline the stark economic and political choices that the new Chinese leadership will face in dealing with the next phase of national development. Read more…

China’s hukou system impinges on development and civic rights

A heavy loaded migrant worker starts the journey home for Chinese New Year, in Shenzhen on February 4, 2010. (Photo: Flickr user 'dcmaster')

Author: Jason Young, Victoria University of Wellington

Since the early 1980s, hundreds of millions of migrants have entered urban areas without full urban status. In conjunction with local industries these migrants put increasing pressure on the state to abolish the hukou system, which requires Chinese citizens to hold a valid residency permit. The state has responded by liberalising two key areas of hukou management but failed to address the fundamental issue of civic inequality.

Today, hukou remains an important governing instrument to promote economic development, maintain social stability and manage migration and urbanisation but these blunt development tools increasingly threaten to dampen the growing dynamism of Chinese society and economy. Read more…

Is China returning to old ideas?

China's pavilion on the opening night of the World Expo in Shanghai. (Photo: Flickr user 'Meiguoxing')

Author: Edward Kus

China is obviously a nation grappling with the contradictions embodied by its desire for development and its recent (and more ancient) past. The recent school stabbings highlight some acute social issues in China, but reactions among my acquaintances demonstrate how China increasingly seems to be looking in on itself for answers rather than to the rest of the world.

Two historically important aspects of Chinese thought are finding new footing in contemporary Chinese society. The first concept is Sino-centralism and the second is known as the Sino-‘barbarian’ dichotomy. Read more…

Politics, ‘guanxi’ and the rule of law

Forty-six year-old 'Godmother' Xie Caiping (L), is led from court after her sentencing in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on November 3, 2009. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Author: Jerome Cohen, NYU

The most formidable challenge to China’s establishment of a credible ‘rule of law’ is neither the quality of its legislation nor the professional competence of its judges, prosecutors, lawyers and police. Laws and the skills of those who apply them have both witnessed substantial progress in the People’s Republic during the past three decades.

The real challenge to the administration of justice in China is, rather, the undue intrusion of politics and, even more broadly, of ‘guanxi’, the network of interpersonal relations of mutual protection, benefit and dependency that is one of the enduring hallmarks of Chinese society. Read more…

Making real hukou reform in China

Migrant workers eating and resting sitting on their helmets, on the fence of their constuction site and temporary home (Photo: Flickr user '! ! JJJJJJJ')

Author: Kam Wing Chan, University of Washington

Yes it’s true – hukou (household registration) reform is again back in vogue in China’s ‘post-crisis’ conversations. Premier Wen Jiabao has been talking about it and, unusually the catch phrase has also been placed in the first ‘Central Document’ of 2010. Following the lead of these two sources, hundreds of newspaper articles and commentaries have opined on it in the last few weeks. On March 1, 13 big-city newspapers from 11 provinces in China also made a rare joint appeal for accelerating reform of the hukou system in a co-signed editorial. In sum, the issue is firmly in the spotlight, and hopes have been raised for some real hukou reform.

The hukou system is a big deal in the People’s Republic.  For the past 52 years, the system has served to segregate the rural and the urban populations, initially in geographical terms, but more fundamentally, in social, economic and political terms. Read more…

Achieving real progress in China’s hukou reform

A Chinese migrant collecting recyclable trash takes a late afternoon nap on his 'flatbed' tricycle in Beijing on May 14, 2009. (Photo: UPI Photo)

Author: Ran Tao, Renmin University

Hukou reform’ is now becoming a catchphrase in the Chinese media and in China’s policy making circles. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in an exclusive interview with the Xinhua News Agency on December 27, 2009, said that China will steadily advance the reform of its decades-long household registration system in order to ensure migrant workers have the same rights as city dwellers.

The importance attached to hukou reform is also reflected in the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘No. 1 Central Committee Document’, promulgated at the end of January 2010. Read more…

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The challenge of China

A cyclist in Taiyuan rides past a billboard displaying political leaders past and present - from the top, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao

Author: Richard Rigby, ANU

Challenge is a word that carries a heavy burden of nuance: it can convey a sense of threat, it can be an inspiration, it poses questions – often difficult ones – and it can also be double-edged, in that the challenge frequently applies as much to the alleged challenger as it does to those on the receiving end. Where China is concerned, the word is appropriate in every sense; but an important part of the challenge is precisely to decide which aspect is of the greatest importance. Only having done this can we attempt to frame policies, or at least provide the best possible advice to the policymakers, which will enable us to meet the challenge that today’s — and tomorrow’s — China poses to us, and to itself.

If there is a single word that should be applied to China, whether speaking of its international impact or its domestic situation, it should be ‘complexity’. Read more…

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The end of the Beijing political consensus?

Is Chinese stability at risk without giving people more of a voice?

Authors: Peter Drysdale and Shiro Armstrong, ANU

Yang Yao, Deputy Dean of the National School of Development and the Director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, argues in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs that a radical shift in gear on China’s political reform is now necessary to maintaining growth with social harmony.

‘Beijing’s ongoing efforts to promote GDP growth’, he argues, ‘will inevitably result in infringements on people’s economic and political rights. For example, arbitrary land acquisitions are still prevalent in some cities, the government closely monitors the Internet, labour unions are suppressed, and workers have to endure long hours and unsafe conditions. Chinese citizens will not remain silent in the face of these infringements, and their discontent will inevitably lead to periodic resistance. Before long, some form of explicit political transition that allows ordinary citizens to take part in the political process will be necessary.’

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The harmonious evolution of information in China

Chinese use computers at an Internet cafe in Fuyang in central China's Anhui province, on Jan. 15, 2010. (Photo: AP Photo)

Author: Geremie R. Barmé, ANU

As the contretemps involving Google’s conflicted presence in the People’s Republic of China unfolds, it is timely to recall one anniversary that passed by all but unnoticed in 2009: that of a covert Cold War-era clash between John Foster Dulles and Mao Zedong in 1959. This overlooked anniversary is worth recalling now, since it is of particular relevance to contextualising the remarks—and the Chinese response to those remarks—that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made regarding Internet freedom and U.S. policy in Washington on 21 January 2010 (see here for full text of Clinton’s speech).

In the speech, Clinton reminds her audience of comments that President Barack Obama made on Internet freedom during the webcast section of his November ‘town hall meeting’ in Shanghai. Read more…

China’s migrant problem: the need for hukou reform

A migrant construction worker walks to his dormitories after he finished his work in front of the Chinese Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 site in Shanghai, on January 20, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Author: Sherry Tao Kong, ANU

In December 2009 China’s Central Economic Work Conference announced policy initiatives of hukou (household registration) reform and the absorption of migrant workers into small-medium cities. Although the renewed national strategy can certainly be seen as a welcome sign to address this fundamental issue, the majority of migrants are clustered in metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The local governments in these cities will need to devise their own coping strategies to deal with the pressure and tension over limited infrastructure and resources.

Beginning last year, Shanghai and a number of other cities have started a ‘point system’ to grant ‘well-qualified’ migrant workers permanent residency. Read more…

The Google news: China enters its Bush-Cheney era

A Chinese national flag flies in front of Google China's headquarters in Beijing, on January 14, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Author: James Fallows

I have not yet been able to reach my friends in China to discuss the story of Google’s threatened withdrawal from China, so for now I am judging the Google response strictly by what the company has posted on its ‘Official Blog,’ here, and my observations from dealing with Google-China officials while overseas. Therefore this will epitomise the Web-age reaction to a breaking news story, in that it will be a first imperfect assessment, subject to revision as new facts come in.

This development is significant for Google, and while it is only marginally significant for developments inside China, it is potentially very significant for China’s relations with the rest of the world. Read more…

Five predictions for the Chinese economy in 2010

An investor looks at the stock price monitor at a private securities company on Monday, Jan. 4, 20120 in Shanghai, China. (Photo: AP Photo)

Author: Yiping Huang, Peking University and ANU

As the year 2009 fades into the distance in the rear view mirror, the Chinese economy has entered into unknown territory in 2010. Investors are universally far more upbeat than one year ago. Policymakers talk busily about adjusting economic structure as the new top policy priority, seeing no risk in achieving above 8 per cent growth.

For some, China’s ability to achieve strong growth amid global recession was the biggest surprise of 2009. To me, it was not. The Chinese government’s abilities in mobilising resources have strengthened, not weakened, significantly during the past decade. If the government really believed that 8 per cent growth was critical, then that would happen. Read more…