China watchers from inside and outside the country gathered in Tokyo on Jan. 25 to discuss the balancing act in the world's fastest-developing economy and expressed little optimism.
There was little discord among participants on how China needs to change its ways and focus on economic freedom rather than nationalism.
A symposium organized by the Japan External Trade Organization and The Asahi Shimbun titled, "China's New Age: Toward a Matured Society" outlined the structural issues and policy options facing China's new cadre of leaders. With nearly 70 percent of the Central Committee and Politburo members replaced at the 18th Party Congress in November, the country’s course remains a mystery and a cause of concern for its neighbors.
David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University and one of two keynote speakers at the event, struck a note of caution in his address at United Nations University in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.
“(General Secretary of the Communist Party) Xi Jinping has very much identified himself with the theme of nationalism, and we're going to see much of that--a very strong Chinese nationalism--and that is not necessarily a good thing,” the American scholar said.
Xi was also named chairman of China's Central Military Commission at the Party Congress.
“In all countries, economics are politics, but in China politics are economics,” added Shambaugh, who pointed to fellow speaker Wenkui Zhang’s keynote address as a blueprint that China's leaders should follow to achieve less regionally alarming, balanced growth.
“China’s current system of government intervention (in the economy) could become an obstacle to achieving the kind of innovation-driven growth it requires,” said Zhang, who serves as deputy director of the Enterprise Research Institute at the Development Research Center of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.
According to Zhang, the government needs to concentrate on enforcing contracts, protecting property rights and guaranteeing human rights to achieve true industrialization. It also needs to level the field for private businesses, which on the whole are three times as efficient in returning capital than their state-run counterparts.
The speakers and panelists were also in accordance that China’s new conservative leadership will be the country’s bottleneck.
Shambaugh put it bluntly: “I’m not optimistic that China’s new leadership can undertake the reforms needed to improve domestic society and its foreign relations. The world should expect more acute problems at home and more friction abroad.”
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