The most important challenge facing the new leadership under Xi Jinping is offering change while maintaining continuity. The 34 years that have passed since the beginning of the policy of opening and reform, inspired and enacted by Deng Xiaoping, have demonstrated its effectiveness and success. The last 10 years in particular, under the guidance of Hu Jintao, have confirmed China’s progress and its strength on the international stage. Nevertheless, some problems have emerged that need to be faced. One of the great new changes in official Chinese policy is highlighted by the recognition of these problems. Nobody is denying the contradictions brought on by such extreme development. The final address by ex-Secretary Hu Jintao was very clear in this respect: China is not exempt from the laws of development and economy. The construction of a socialist economy brings out knots that need to be untangled. With great honesty, and for the first time on such a solemn occasion, Hu spoke openly about the problem of corruption. The challenges facing China’s incoming leaders, in any case, are more widespread and demanding, both domestically and internationally. There are certain ferments in Chinese society that should be exploited to give lifeblood to the country, while at the same time removing the obstacles created by unbalanced development. New elements are emerging and consolidating. A new urban class has asserted itself through hard work, study, and sacrifice. It is enjoying unprecedented wealth, and it requires an appropriate quality of life. The youth of today deserve the opportunity for a better, more balanced future, made of social certainties and hope. These youth have mastered the most modern forms of communication, are more inclined to learn English, and often stay in contact with different places and cultures. They demand – and sometimes impose – non-unilateral communication, free from propaganda. They aspire to a decent, respectable home without having to indebt themselves for life. They want access to transparent lending, based upon purely economic criteria. There is a general demand for the possibility to capitalize on the successes of the country, without making concessions or sacrifices. It is a matter of favoring consumption, without the fear of needing to save for the future. This is tightly linked to the welfare reforms that, if understood in the most advantageous way for the people, could free up resources for individual spending. This is, on the other hand, one of the priorities expressed by the leadership: to change the development model, even if only partially, by shifting preference from investment to consumption. This change needs to be implemented in the coastal cities, and in the country’s interior. Income disparity has not abated, and the “go west” policy will be implemented with more force to prevent social inequality in the country from becoming untenable.
The challenges on the international front are equally demanding. After its congress, the CCP has been called to control a new and difficult situation, without allowing it to escalate dangerously out of control. After decades of relations dominated by economic interests, the political-military bloc is beginning to emerge. The former led to a manufacturing integration in the key of globalization; the latter threatens to provoke a dangerous divergence. This is one of the effects of the end of a old international order, known as the “Washington Consensus.” For a long time, too long, China was de facto kept far away from international summits aimed at the western world. Its exclusion from the G8 is thankfully a thing of the past. Today a more representative G20 paints a better international picture, where emerging nations – of which China is the foremost representative – play a role more fitting for their size and aspirations. This also compels Beijing to find its own role, avoiding the isolationist temptations that would be in conflict with its by now globalized position. There is no planetary scenario from which China could or should be excluded, but this entails an increased assumption of responsibility.
The path before the new leadership is fraught with challenges and problems. Behind them are more than 30 years of successes that need to be capitalized upon and defended. And yet, their memory may not be enough, because new scenarios, especially in the economic crisis, can pop up unexpectedly. Once again, like so many times in China’s history, the search for balance will be decisive. The task will be to continue the success and strive for the rise of the Pacific, with the knowledge that the tools of the past will need to be modified.