China After Hu Jintao: The Looming Class War in 2010?

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Conference Summary

As China positions itself for a greater role in international affairs, a reexamination of how its internal power dynamics influence its international ambitions is needed. Jamestown Foundation Senior Fellow Dr. Willy Wo-Lap Lam addressed the multi-dimensional picture of 21st Century China in a morning lecture on Wednesday, November 1 in The Jamestown Foundation’s auditorium. After a brief welcome from Jamestown President Glen Howard, recognized Sinologist Dr. Richard Bush, who is the Director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, introduced Dr. Lam as a seasoned, unconventional analyst of China. A Hong-Kong based Sinologist with more than 20 years of experience in reporting on China, Dr. Lam regularly contributes to Jamestown’s China Brief and is also a Professor of China and Global Studies at Akita International University in Japan.

With the publication of his new book, Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges, Dr. Lam spoke on the contrast between the reality of the social conditions in China and the "harmonious society" envisioned by Beijing. As the income disparity between the rich and poor and the development gap between the eastern coastal and western hinterland regions continue to widen, Hu’s administration has struggled to react, facing continued Party corruption and cronyism. Dr. Lam began the discussion by giving a brief history of Hu’s rise to power from a rather inconspicuous position in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Deng Xiaoping – as party chief of Tibet – to his present position as president. Dr. Lam drew on Hu’s personal history of having worked in the poorer, hinterland provinces of China in order to better explain the motivation behind Hu’s bold yet faltering scientific theory of a "Harmonious Society."

Having seen the dire poverty of China’s rural provinces first-hand and having methodically studied early Marxist political theory, Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao created the socialism-based scientific theory for fostering "harmony" among the growing special interest groups and political factions in China. Yet there are two intrinsic characteristics of the CCP, Dr. Lam pointed out, that are undermining Hu’s reform efforts. First, the Communist Party has lost its qualifications to rule; it is no longer a "fair" arbitrator between the rural and the urban. Instead, it has degenerated into being a "Black Referee," as Dr. Lam so aptly put it. A biased "party of the people" that engages in land grabbing and bribing is incapable of redressing the poor conditions of China’s education, healthcare and property rights systems. Dr. Lam’s second criticism was directed toward the absolute lack of political reform. He argued that China does not necessarily need Western-style political reforms such as a full-fledged democratic system, but rather needs popular reforms that would extend representation in the Party to the rural and the poor. With over 86,000 mass incidents and demonstrations just this year, China faces extreme social unrest.

Dr. Lam concluded his lecture with a discussion on the status of the Communist Party in 2012. He pointed out the four groups that he believed are currently being groomed for the future leadership of the CCP: the former members of the Communist Youth League who had served under Hu’s directorship; the "princelings" or sons and daughters of current senior party cadres; influential businessmen from the oil, automobile and financial industries; and finally "returnees," which refers to the Chinese business and political leaders who have been educated abroad. The Q&A session continued to focus on Dr. Lam’s predictions on the success of the Hu administration’s "harmonious society" efforts and how changes in Party dynamics would affect China’s relations with countries such as Pakistan and Russia.


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