Opinion: More than a Fly on the Great Wall

Great Wall of ChinaLast 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.

If you would like to know more about or contribute to any aspect of our work, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

* Merlene Emerson is is Vice-Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee and an Executive member of LibDems Overseas.

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8 Comments

  • Well, I admit I am still more than a little worried about this, “7.5% GDP growth per year over the next 10 years and a doubling of the per capita GDP by 2020 sound eminently attainable.” I was hoping the end leadership would look to build sustainable growth, but it seems they are going to follow on in the footsteps of the previous administration. I fear this means when the pump-priming bubble does bust and China can no longer keep undercutting markets to maintain manufacturing rates the recession is going to be catastrophic for those working on the unskilled production lines. To slow growth now would hurt and could lose the administration some of the elites support, but sooner or later China is going to have that the Government doing things like funding companies to sell their products at 20% of the world market price is just unsustainable.

    As for Xi JinPing, well his stance on corruption, if he can maintain it, is positive; however, if some of his past speeches are anything to go by, he is far from ‘Westernised’. In fact, he seems very happy to play up isolationist and anti-老外 feelings should the need arise. As far as I can tell, 習近平 is a very shrewd and competent leader, and his upbringing means one would hopes he understands the troubles of the common man far better than most. However, whether he will be the reformer some are hoping for or not? That is yet to be seen.

    Li Keqiang, I know less about, but he again seems to show positive signs on the corruption front, which is nothing to laughed at. While my personal experience of Mainland China (中國大陸) is rather limited, I can remember from spending a portion of my life in Taiwan just how different the words ‘law’ and ‘法律’ really are. So I personally feel that someone who seems very determined to ensure that an effective and clean political system is put in place is certainly a promising sign. Beyond that, as I said, I do not know much about Li Keqiang.

    One I think, we as Liberals, should not ignore is Li Yuanchao (李源潮). Maybe due to me being a 外國人, I make too much of his rise, but I honestly see a (possibly self-proclaimed) ‘reformer’ like him as a real sign of progress.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 19th Mar '13 - 11:24pm

    Good post Merlene. Lord John Lee asked a question today of the Minister in the Lords on the issue of how there are still too many restrictions on Chinese tourists and investors. In particular visa costs and restrictions on foreign studetns are putting many off coming here. Check it out on today’s Hansard.

  • @Meral: I agree, that is a fundamental point, which Vince and many others (especially in the business world) have echoed for years now. Let us hope that it can snowball into a larger thing and the benefits of it will soon spread beyond just lobbying to give Chinese nationals better access.

    I think it is just disgusting that Chinese citizen have to give their fingerprints to the police when they arrive, and pay for the honour as well. Whatever happened to the concept that racial filing is wrong and that one is innocent until proven guilty.

    I await criticism for these comments (on grounds of national security and the like), but I just think it is not only wrong to treat expats so ungraciously, it is also plain counter-productive. I spoke to someone who works in one of our embassies in East Europe, and explained to me just how much damage the UKBA alone does to Britian’s international reputation.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 20th Mar '13 - 12:18am

    Confidence in the West, and specifically GB as a business partner will increase if overseas students see GB as their first choice for their education. Our current immigration rules may very well impede the growth of our academic institutions, by making it harder to obtain a student visa, which may well then have a negative knocks impact on our overall economy.

  • PS (Slightly off topic) It is great to see our Lords, like yourself and Lord Lee, highlighting this issue. Please keep up the good work; Immigration policy is so fundamental. 🙂

  • @Liberal Al

    Not convinced Xi’s stance on corruption is particularly positive. At least during the last couple of years of Hu and then through the transition, the Party has only moved on corruption when (a) they’ve felt personally threatened (Bo Xilai) and (b) when cases have been so blatant they’ve become common knowledge among the chattering classes / on the Chinese internet. I think rather than seriously go after corrupt officials Xi will gamble on growth being high enough to persuade the general population to broadly turn a blind eye. No coincidence that vocal discontent on corruption has grown the last couple of years as the economy’s slowed.

    I can’t see major political reform during the Xi-Li administration. The problems China faces aren’t quite urgent enough to warrant the risk. It will be in another decade under a generation of leaders who lived their entire adult lives after the opening up where we might see big change.

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