How Big a Change?
A sweeping government change occurred during the first two weeks of March in Communist China at the annual session of its parliament, the National People’s Congress. The top level of the Chinese leadership has new faces:Jiang Zemin stepped down as president and was replaced by Hu Jintao; Premier Zhu Rongji was replaced by one of his vice prime ministers, Wen Jiabao. Chinese legislators also appointed new leaders in other key leadership and cabinet positions.
This being the biggest leadership change since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the impoverished Chinese people are hopeful that they will benefit from the change.
The people’s desire for change might seem odd considering China’s past two decades of economic and political advancement. However, a closer examination of the facts shows that the economic boom has really only affected the urbanized east coast. The 70 percent of China’s 1.3 billion population living in the poorer, rural areas of the country have not benefitted.
President Hu, who grew up in a peasant family, has emphasized the necessity to address this growing wealth gap and spread the prosperity to China’s agricultural inland. But will the new administration be successful in this goal? Or is it just a new face peddling an old ideology?
In his first public remarks as president, Hu stated, “Only socialism can save China, and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China” (Associated Press, March 17). The newcomer president of China seems to be cast in the same mold as his predecessors, emphasizing that there is to be no change in the Communist ideology that failed so grandly in their neighbor to the north, greater Russia.
To what extent the new leaders can truly address China’s Achilles heel—the poverty extant among millions—is yet to be seen. Any solution to the poverty problem, Wen stated in a news conference, must be approached within the framework of the old red ideology: “Governing China is a project that is extremely demanding. Only by reform, opening up and implementing socialism with Chinese characteristics can we build a more modern, prosperous China” (ibid.).
To the Chinese, socialism remains the key to success in their nation, despite its massive failure within the old Soviet Union.