, Newburyport, MA


November 16, 2012

In China, a government struggles to modernize

Officially, China’s Communist Party congress is about setting the stage for the country’s future.

The congress, held every five years, involves a gathering of 2,200 party delegates who select the next generation of leadership.

But realistically, much of the congress is little more than show, a rallying of loyal troops. The power brokers in China’s Communist Party make all the decisions behind the scenes.

Still, the issues discussed at the congress hint at things to come. And among the subjects raised at the congress were those that one might expect in a county undergoing rapid modernization and uneven growth.

Worries about the differences between rich and poor, environmental degradation and signs of an economic slowdown were mentioned. But perhaps the biggest public display in the realm of reform dealt with corruption.

This has been a growing concern in China, as the notion of becoming wealthy has gained a foothold in many parts of the country. Corruption — particularly that displayed by government and party officials — is distorting the economic process.

In his speech to the party congress this week, Chinese President Hu Jintao tackled the corruption problem head-on. “If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” Hu told delegates, who responded with applause.

That’s a remarkably candid assessment in a party that doesn’t like to admit its failings or shortcomings. Whether this will lead to renewed efforts to root out corruption is far less clear.

There have been some highly publicized anti-corruption campaigns in China in recent years, some of which have led to the executions of officials. But in China, it’s unclear if such moves are truly designed to restore confidence in the system or employ scapegoats to paper over problems.

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