Last November I blogged here about my trip to China shortly before the Chinese leadership handover at the 18th Party Congress. On Sunday 17 March that hand over was finally completed with Xi JinPing installed as President and Li Keqiang as Premier of the world’s emerging second super power.
China watchers have been keen to study the background of these two men to predict the future direction of the Chinese Communist Party under their leadership. Their fluency in the English language and easy manner might suggest that they are more westernised hence would be “modernisers” or “reformers”. I believe it is still early days to be using such labels.
Let us look instead at what they have said were their priorities for China.
Xi JinPing’s “Chinese Dream” is about the great Renaissance of the Chinese nation, ever higher living standards and.. (pause) .. a stronger military. Indeed the projection for an average of 7.5% GDP growth per year over the next 10 years and a doubling of the per capita GDP by 2020 sound eminently attainable. Large swathes of rural China will be starting from a very low base: one eighth of the population still live on less than US$1.25 per day according to the United Nations Development Programme.
Li Keqiang has pledged to tackle bureaucracy and corruption and to reduce inequality. He has claimed to be willing to accept supervision from society and media on clean governance. He has also said that Central government will lead by example and local government would have to follow suit. I imagine the next time I visit China there may be fewer banquets, which can only be a good thing.
However what does all this mean for us in the UK? There is the danger that Britons facing austerity and a shaky Eurozone may tend towards protectionism and xenophobia. Yet most people know that UK needs increased exports and more inward investment to create more jobs and growth.
To assist towards this end, Chinese Liberal Democrats will be hosting a series of “East-West business networking events” this year for Chinese corporate and UK businesses interested in expanding into China. We have also commissioned a piece of research by a Masters student in International Relations to report on the benefits of twinning with Chinese cities with particular study of success stories (or of lessons learnt from the less successful).
Being liberals we are equally mindful of issues relating to freedom and civil rights in China and are pleased to hear that the new leaders in China intend to phase out the old labour camps, as well as stopping the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners. Perhaps not soon enough…and I would urge anyone interested in this topic to view a documentary entitled “Free China” that will be screened at various London Colleges this week.
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* Merlene is Vice-Chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and Chinese Liberal Democrats. She was London Assembly Candidate in 2012 and Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith in 2010.