New Challenges For China’s New Leadership

Nothing new has emerged from the XVII Chinese Communist Party Congress, and yet the challenges facing the country are ever more pressing. In the path chosen by new Secretary Xi Jinping will echo the parting words of his predecessor Hu Jintao, who declared that China will double its GDP by 2020. It is an ambitious goal, but not a new one: the logic of development continues, where the production of goods and services, although scaled down, is still the driving force of China’s society and economy. Growing at a reduced rate – with yearly GDP growth rates between 7 and 8% – is a sign of China’s maturity, but it does not offer solutions to its other binding problems. What will the relationship be like with the United States? Will there be more of the same attraction/criticism that renders the town countries hostile on a political plane, but integrated economically? Will the Pacific really be an ocean of peace, or will rising tensions cause a military escalation? If China were to reduce its financing of American public debt, the consequences would be dramatic.
Despite being the result of a prearranged decision, the new Secretary will be forced to make decisions that could scatter the mosaic of interests that led to his nomination. The new challenge lies in the inability to separate internal problems from international ones. China by now is exposed to winds of crisis from all directions. It is closed, isolated and protected and by now assigned to history. In todays full-on globalized world, it is the state of global economic health that determines China’s performance, and therefore its stability. Even the demands of Chinese society are moving towards being more open, to lessen the competitive pressure and censorship on social expression. The new leadership will not be allowed to neglect these tasks and requests. They will be forced to make decisions in uncharted territory, and to negotiate on aspects whose specifics China has never even contemplated. They will be able to overlook some interests to the advantage of others. There is no lack of potential battlefields: the coastal regions versus the backward interior, Beijing’s power versus that of the provinces, the role of the state owned companies and private enterprise, the slackening of welfare and the accumulation of reserves. These are complex subjects, maybe inextricable, but the ability of the new leadership will be measured along these lines, because any decision to cut these knots, instead of untangling them, could be a dangerous shortcut.