New Castle News

Editorials

November 9, 2012

Our Opinion: Modernization goes on, but something key is missing

NEW CASTLE — Officially, China’s Communist Party congress is about setting the stage for the country’s future.

The congress, held every five years, involves a gathering of 2,200 party delegates who select the next generation of leadership.

But realistically, much of the congress is little more than show, a rallying of loyal troops. The power brokers in China’s Communist Party make all the decisions behind the scenes.

Still, the issues discussed at the congress hint at things to come. And among the subjects raised at the congress were those that one might expect in a county undergoing rapid modernization and uneven growth.

Worries about the differences between rich and poor, environmental degradation and signs of an economic slowdown were mentioned. But perhaps the biggest public display in the realm of reform dealt with corruption.

This has been a growing concern in China, as the notion of becoming wealthy has gained a foothold in many parts of the country. Corruption — particularly that displayed by government and party officials — is distorting the economic process.

In his speech to the party congress this week, Chinese President Hu Jintao tackled the corruption problem head-on. “If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” Hu told delegates, who responded with applause.

That’s a remarkably candid assessment in a party that doesn’t like to admit its failings or shortcomings. Whether this will lead to renewed efforts to root out corruption is far less clear.

There have been some highly publicized anti-corruption campaigns in China in recent years, some of which have led to the executions of officials. But in China, it’s unclear if such moves are truly designed to restore confidence in the system or employ scapegoats to paper over problems.

At the root of China’s problem with corruption isn’t just greed amid newfound wealth. There is also the issue of rule of law — or lack thereof. Ultimately, the Communist Party in China is answerable only to itself. No matter how much the party seeks to modernize the country or advocate free-market practices, an unaccountable system that fails to appreciate the benefits of fair treatment across the board flirts with disaster.

China’s growth has been astonishing and admirable in many ways. Much of it represents a pragmatism practiced by its leaders that rejects much of what passes for communism.

But central planning and authoritarianism remain key components to decision making in China. The leadership selection process is a perfect example of that.

In China today, there is growing discomfort with this top-down system. The leadership is likely to find it difficult to pursue desired growth while maintaining central control.

That’s the challenge China faces in its future, a future that in many ways has already arrived.

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