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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 12:49 GMT
China: Will the new leadership make a difference?
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China has announced sweeping leadership changes, with Vice-President Hu Jintao named as the new head of China's ruling Communist Party.
Outgoing president Jiang Zemin is expected to retain considerable influence.
At least five of his allies have been appointed to the powerful standing committee, and Mr Jiang has also been re-elected to head China's military commission, the body which controls the country's armed forces.
New party chief Hu Jintao is expected to assume the country's presidency next Spring.
But what will the change mean for China and the rest of the world? How are the new leaders likely to differ from the old? And what hopes do you have for China's future as it faces up to change at the top?
This debate is now closed. A selection of your e-mails is published below.
I don't see any major shift in policies, at least in the near future, as Jiang and his team have retained powers and are still the power behind the throne. China does not need much change as far as its economic agenda goes, as long as they keep up the momentum. However, they will have to review their human rights record and make amends.
It continually astounds me that people keep saying that China cannot be expected to adopt western style democracy because of its history.
It adopted Communism, a western invention in 40 years. Karl Marx was not born in China. If their culture can so quickly adopt our mistakes why can't they follow our successes as Taiwan did.
I hope there will be major changes. China needs time so that people will have a higher standard of living. I believe it will be successful!
Eric Wang, Edmonton, Canada
I do business in China and the younger people there seem more interested in having a new mobile than political reform. It seems to be a case of letting the economy progress and keeping political reform off the agenda. However things are already fraying at the edges of this policy - mainly in the use of new technologies such as the internet, with the Chinese government blocking sites such as Google, then unblocking within a couple of weeks. It is already so integrated into the global economy that its policies are increasingly restricted. I am hopeful about continuing and gradual reform.
I was in college when students filled Tienanmen Square and I knew a few Chinese students on campus. They seemed to accept as a matter of fact that Western-style liberal democracy was the future for China, but Hu was groomed by a dictator to be a dictator. Real change does not come in dictatorships without bloodshed. If people are eating well they may resign themselves to servitude and the status quo.
The most important thing for China now is to fight the gap between a Communist government and the upcoming capitalism which threats to ruin their society. In the last few years Western influences have changed a lot in China - this has pros and cons. I hope the new leadership will address all these issues and cooperate better with the rest of the world.
Ian Buchanan, Bellingham, USA
Communism and capitalism are both paths to similar goals: egalitarian society. Many Westerners are in denial that systems other than liberal democracy can work, and in some cases better. Market communism is the most plausible for such a large country. Human rights are violated in both forms, one is appropriate for that culture. Westerners will just have to live with the fact that Chinese communism has succeeded in a way not even conceived.
China is already very attractive for investors. I hope the new leadership will be more liberal and will get rid of their conservative attitudes! I think it's very important for China to get more westerly. I believe Mr Jintao should invent things like free press, "free" TV, he also should promote democracy and social security. I'm sure China will be one of the mightiest countries in the future.
I just hope, for once, that the West will keep its collective nose out of another country's business. The best way for China to face its future, good or bad, is for it to do it alone without the constant meddling of the West. Only the Chinese know what is right for China, regardless of whether or not anyone else agrees with it.
Peter Vevang, Minneapolis, USA
Yes, here many people from western countries expect a reform in China which can make it be more like America or Britain and its idealised democratic society. But they are unable to consider, however, that hundreds of years of evolution, not sudden imposition, gave rise to these strong democratics. Not recognising this truth, the reform it provided will be ephemeral, imprudent and sometimes even dangerous.
The Chinese leadership is stuck with a problem that most of the contributors here don't see. Monolithic Communism only holds together as long as the people see the state as the main source of all supplies, plans and benefits. Once you allow local free markets, people gradually transfer their loyalties to local ethnicities, local leaders and local companies. If people worry about the erosion of institutions in the West, where we are very lightly governed, imagine what a nightmare the gradual fragmentation of society must be for a totalitarian party like China's that used to dictate every detail of life - right down to when you could marry and how many children you could have. The probability is that China, like the USSR before it, will soon break up into a loose federal system. Unitary China is a fiction, as we are about to see.
Ed, Los Angeles, USA
China was a world leading country for thousands of years and than we the West took charge and made a mess of everything. With or without the new government, China will be, once again, a leading force in the world.
The starting point for a Westerner to understand the contemporary China is to give up the Cold War mentality. The world has evolved considerably since the fall of the Soviet Union, and that change cannot be exaggerated enough when it comes to China. In any non-political aspects of social life in modern China, the difference between capitalism and communism has strongly blurred. Even in the arena of politics, those leaders have become more down-to-earth, rather than the former idealists. In regards to the western-style democracy, the history of China is so different from that of the west that many Western political concepts, which largely originated from the Enlightenment, have no relevance or bear different nuances. The thinking that China will only become a first-rate society when it adopts western political systems is purely eurocentristic. China's future lies in its own synergies of social dynamics. China will prosper in their own Chinese way and centuries of history have already proven that.
Do you really expect people with near absolute power over one quarter of the world's population to simply give it up so that the people will be free?
Alex Story, London, UK
This is the biggest story of the decade. The wholesale change of leadership sets the stage for the China to become the most powerful country in XXI Century.
Tom's dream that China will be the greatest country in the next century can never be realised because China is and will remain an ethnically homogenous, mono-cultural society. The USA will therefore keep setting the benchmark for a diverse and dynamic society for the decades to come. However, the USA must work hard on addressing its social problems, like health care provision for all, gun control, huge income disparities, etc. for really making it a model society that the world looks up to.
I heard a great definition of the political system in China: "National Capitalism". They seem to have precariously balanced both worlds... at least for the time being.
And if George Bush gets off their back for a while perhaps they wouldn't feel so resentful of the interference of the west.
Like it or not we're ALL going to have to do business with China - and more than likely on their terms rather than ours.
Isn't the dividing of capitalism and communism a legacy of cold war propaganda? Or can anyone who talks in these terms provide a definition for "communism"?
China's economic reform never can be successful without political reform. As a Chinese citizen, I have to confess that I have never got a chance to vote for "people's rep" as well as country's leader even though I have been told many times that every citizen in China has the right to do so. We badly need a freer system which allows people to speak out, allows media to report truth instead of propaganda. Forget about nationalism, people have the right to choose their lifestyle.
Matt, Atlanta, USA
I hope, and I think there will be no major changes. China needs more of the same. As long as there is stability, there will be growth and prosperity.
As a Chinese student in UK, I believe that the younger generation of leaders will keep leading 1.3 billion people to a better life. I personally think it takes time for western people to get to know a sweeping changing country. Please listen to the voice of western people who have been working in China no less than five years. Please listen to the voice of Singapore people who master Chinese and English. Definitely, that will be closer to the exact situation in my motherland.
Hats off to the Chinese Communist Party. I only wish my country could handle the change of times with such intelligence! I hope with time we'll listen less to propaganda and rhetoric from both sides and just see the developments and achievements for what they really are.
Alan, Los Angeles, USA
The only hope for China is to rid itself of the chains and walls of communism. The people must march again for their freedom until the dictators have fallen.
China will continue evolving under a new leadership, but I doubt that any drastic changes will occur. As many have already said, the last thing China wants to be is another former Soviet Union.
Bin Wu, China
I'm glad to see China change its leadership to a younger generation. Something we should do here. Old(er) men are generally only interested in power and are too distant from the needs of the common and young people. China needs to take its place in the international community although I do not agree with its tentative expansionist experiments and movements such as Tibet, Taiwan and other areas in the region.
I give credit to the communist party for adopting practical and sound economic policies in the past two decades. Now overseas the Chinese are more proud of their homeland than they were 20 years ago. It's only my hope that with less baggage from the past, the new generation of leaders will be practical and progressive in putting forth political reforms. The Chinese people deserve the right to know, to express themselves and to start to choose their leaders.
These changes will mean very little - essentially they are about a generation of unelected oligarchs handing over to a new generation of oligarchs. This is still the same Chinese regime that slaughtered the students of the democracy movement, practises mass executions and continues to brutally oppress Tibet and its people. We should be ashamed to have diplomatic relations with them, and western tourists who go on holiday to China should realise they are supporting a tyranny.
I agree with the analysis of International Herald Tribune: "Without declaration, China has evolved from a totalitarian country into an authoritarian one". Marx got it right when he said, "No upper architecture (politics) can remain unchanged with the changing economic foundation". China will eventually follow the path taken by South Korea. We have deep faith in that.
I do hope the new leader of China will give some consideration to political reform, ending corruption; notice the increasingly difference among the different levels of Chinese; care about environmental protection, education, etc. Above all, the new group of leaders should be practical rather than just "talk"
How can a country be "great", when it does not let its people say what they think, express what they feel, and denies them free access to objective facts about the world and the exercise of power over them? All the production of material goods and services in China meets only one side of being human. The Chinese Communist Party denies the other side. "Just think" is a forbidden, secret impulse there. How do we change that?
This congress will lay the foundation of China's superpower aspirations. By 2020 China will be the leading economy in the world, by 2050 China might be the ONLY superpower in the globe.
Pharroz Rhees, Springtown
The Chinese do not want to face the same situation as the Russians did when they switched to capitalism and Western democracy. They will move very cautiously.
Whatever happens in China is being driven by the party's need to survive. Economic reforms have come only in the wake of unmitigated failures at a ghastly cost to the peasants. Communism in China has been as economically and socially disastrous for the Chinese as it was for the Eastern Europeans. Meanwhile you have the European and American left applauding the Communists in China for giving the people rights that were inherently theirs to begin with. Preposterous!
The most important objective the fourth generation of leaders should have is the establishment of a truly independent judiciary, separate from both the will of the party and big business. Without this, the biggest problem facing China, corruption, can never be halted. Corruption renders useless all the new laws promoting human rights and the general good of the Chinese people that the central government passes. Sadly, given China's historical dependence on Guanxi (connections) it will probably take more than a change of leadership to bring about this reform. It has taken the West hundreds of years to establish our judicial systems, and with the problems with the Supreme Court judges in the US at the moment, can we honestly claim ours are truly independent and free from cronyism and corruption?
I wish those who are retiring after this Congress well. They have done a marvellous job keeping China grow its economy fast. Especially premier Zhu Rongji deserves the credit for the positive changes during the last decades. Although he was not elected to power by a democratic process, his performance outshine many of his counterparts in Asia.
There will be no major changes. The tone will be the same, even looking at all preparation work of the Congress itself. But it will have nothing to do with ordinary people who can only pray for better.
I hope this latest change is not just a manoeuvre to soften outsiders' view of China's oppressive leadership. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree but perhaps a new seed can be planted that will bear a substantially different crop. We can only collectively pray. But for the moment, I will tentatively value the new changes as a minute but positive step in the right direction.
Nathan Madsen, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Nathan from Los Angeles got it wrong: economic freedom is inseparable from political freedom. What good is freedom of speech if the government owns the printing presses, or freedom of assembly if there is no private property on which to assemble? Capitalism has gotten a bad reputation in recent years, but it is the only economic system in which the individual consumer is sovereign. China will only reach its true potential when it embraces both democracy and free markets.
I recently spent six months in Hong Kong after many years abroad. The changes are apparent, but not for the better. Its administration is muddled by central government in the mainland, and freedom and rights are gradually undermined. We always hear the chants of a "new and open China", but let us not forget it's still under the control of a totalitarian regime.
Although many people in the western world say the human rights is poor on the mainland, there have been great successes achieved in recent years. The leadership recognises the importance of integration with the world and there will be a more open in future.
Do not expect any great changes. The new bunch of leaders are on mostly "old school" communists. Wait until the fifth generation of leaders takes over before you see any radical changes on issues such as political reform, and the Taiwan question.
Everybody abroad talks about China's appalling human rights record. Well guys look at your own governments. Britain violated the rights of millions in various countries and, with America, it still does. Look at Iraq and the millions who have died due to sanctions. A price the Americans justify for their own needs.
Hopefully we will now get a good president full of mercy who will give our citizens what they need.
To Percy in China: God bless you. The answer however is not in the hands of your leaders, it is you that must make a difference. Dependence on any government to solve problems is a one way street to oppression. I wish all the citizens of China well.
Thanks for blessing me in God's sake John, US. As an overseas student in the UK I know much more now than I did in that blocked country. What I want to say is, it is impossible to democratise the Chinese political system immediately. Any slight change should be encouraged and blessed. I am confident it will happen.
Hopefully, the new leaders can really do some work instead of fabricating some words like "three-Reps".
As a native Chinese living in Europe, I'm proud of all the achievements made by the Chinese people. However the differences between rich and poor are relentlessly deepening, so the younger generation of Chinese leaders will have to solve this problem before developing their economy any further.
The congress will mean a further strengthening of the market-driven economy and the preservation of an authoritarian government. China's modern day mandarins and the business class are quite content with this arrangement. However, a result of this may very well be a desperately poor situation for millions of Chinese.
John from Australia: Democracy is not necessarily an answer either, let's not forget Hitler was democratically elected before seizing total power. Capitalism brings its own unique problems not the least of which is economic dependency. The best we can realistically hope for is an overall softening of the regime whilst China continues to modernise, capitalism tomorrow will free the citizens but enslave the nation.
John from Australia: You're all wrong. Stamp out what for good? Do you consider China to be an evil country? If that is your perception then you are blind to the world and history. China in the past has been cruelly used by Western nations. A strong nation was needed under a leadership that would not change in order to bring social stability and stand its ground against those nations and then a gradual opening up of the country when the time was right (Deng Xiaoping's leadership was that start of this process).
Ericsson - and how many Chinese people must suffer and die at the hands of their own strong 'leadership' until you feel they are ready for freedom?
With any luck, this might lead to a younger generation who are more wiling to open up to the rest of the world. Alternatively, this might be more party propaganda designed to make people believe China is far more forward looking then it actually is. They might want us to forget Tiananmen Square, but the rest of us should bear it in mind when dealing with China.
I agree with Richard Murray. I hope that leadership changes will eventually bring an end to the appalling human rights abuses currently taking place in China, but I doubt that this will happen. It would be interesting to hear what the inmates of China's prison system or the members of persecuted groups such as Falun Gong and the underground Protestant and Catholic churches have to say about this. Sadly, the international community seems largely uninterested in their plight.
Jason Ruprich, USA
The fourth generation of Chinese leaders, specifically Mr Hu Jintao, have the opportunity to resolve the Tibet problem. Hu will be the first leader of China who has had direct experience of Tibet. Therefore, he should be able to understand the situation. Tibet, China and the world have changed so much since Hu's days in Tibet, when he declared Martial Law and suppressed the rights of the Tibetan people. It is for China's own good that Hu responds to the reasonable initiatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I spent all of this past September in China and I could see that there is a slow shift from communism to capitalism. The ones that will truly make the changes are the young people. I believe that these young, progressive, university educated people will be the ones to make China an open society and end communist rule.
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