2012: The year China dons new clothes | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 23, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 23, 2011

Sunday Pouch

2012: The year China dons new clothes

Next year is an important year politically for both China and the USA.
In the second half of 2012, the Chinese Communist Party will hold a Congress to install successors to President Hu Jintao's generation.
In November of the same year, the US will hold its presidential election. A new leader could be chosen to hold the reigns of government in that country.
Thus, in the course of 2012, the largest economy in the world may see a change in leadership. The second largest economy will definitely have a new leadership.
When the changes take hold, the world is likely to see new policies and new reforms. All this could make an exciting difference to the people around the world.
Last week, the senior-most Chinese leaders sat in a closed door meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Beijing to put onto a more formal footing arrangements for the handover of power in that country. Vice President Xi Jinping is now virtually assured of succeeding Hu as party and state leader.
Other contenders for the top positions include Bo Xilai, the head of Chongking municipality (30 million residents). Mr. Bo has spearheaded a programme to narrow economic inequalities in his area. Another contender is Wang Yang, head of Guangdong province and considered a more liberal leader. Finally, Yu Zhengsheng, the leader of Shanghai city, the country's coastal business centre.
President Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will step down from their Communist Party posts at the Congress in late 2012. But they will stick to their state and government jobs until early 2013. By then, the Chinese national parliament will vote in their successors.
It is likely that the present Vice Prime Minister Li Kiqiang who has a law degree and is a protégé of President Hu, will occupy the post of prime minister.
Thus, the new clothes have been sewn and hung up. The leaders mentioned earlier are likely to wear them next year. China will have a new set of leaders in 2012.
Besides the crucial decision about leadership, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China took another important decision on "cultural reform." This is for the first time that such an important body took up the issue and set guidelines for the present and future leaders of China.
The party leadership felt that the Chinese government's responsibility did not end by just providing a good material life to her people. It was important to supplement it with a vibrant cultural life. So at a policy level it was agreed to provide more resources so that state run publishers, broadcasters and performers were invigorated. The party felt that such investments would provide social stability in the coming years in China.
The heavy emphasis on culture by the Party Central Committee has been prompted by the need to project Chinese influence and values to the outside world.
But more so, it is the result of concern about the use and abuse of the internet. In China there are more than 500 million people who are connected to the internet. But more critical is the fast expanding net of microblogs there. This is jeopardising all attempts to monitor views and opinions. Public opinion in China today is carried not so much by the media as through the internet. Even if Twitter and Facebook do not have significant impact microblogs are taking over the role.
The Chinese government fears that dissent on social issues can spread quickly through such a medium and lead to unrest. It wants to, therefore, introduce a "healthy, progressive internet culture." But this can take place only if all cultural products inside China embrace the "system of socialist core values."
Values, or their lack, in Chinese society today is a matter of great worry for both the government as well as for the social activists there.
Two recent incidents have highlighted the concern. In the southern city of Foshan a delivery van hit a two-year old girl and left her bleeding in the street. Street cameras picked images of no less than 18 passersby who did not stop to save the girl. Immediately after another van came and hit her. Still no one came until a garbage collector stopped and picked the girl up and took her to hospital. The girl later died.
There has been a great uproar among the people all over China. In one afternoon, 2 million condolence messages for Wang Yue , the small girl who was repeatedly run over, flooded the internet.
Another incident took place in the West Lake in Hangzhou. A visiting American girl jumped into the lake to save a Chinese who was drowning. The good Samaritan saved the person but there were many Chinese onlookers on the bank of the lake. They did not move an inch, while it was a foreigner who saved the Chinese. This incident has also riveted the Chinese nation. "China as a nation has lost its passion and is beyond hope. It is a nation that can sell its soul for money," screamed a reader in a well known media, Weibo, about the sad fate of Wang Yue.
The question that the Chinese seek an answer to is, where will all this end? Compassion and fellow feeling need to return where materialism generally prevails. The Communist Party of China seems to have felt the pulse of the people on the right issue at the right time. But its worry is, can it do so every time on every issue? Therefore, it feels that imbuing values that have been lost due to the Chinese rush towards materialism can be brought back by injecting culture into the mainstream of Chinese life.
2012, therefore, seems to be pregnant with possibilities for China. A new leadership there will face new challenges and will have to craft new responses. It will not only have to show off its new clothes but will also have to ensure that it remains resplendent in those clothes.

The writer is a former Ambassador and Chairman of the Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.
E-mail: ashfaq303@hotmail.com

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