April 15th, 2014
02:22 PM ET

What's behind China's reforms?

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By Global Public Square staff

If Dick Cheney were arrested…and his assets seized…all in an anti-corruption effort by President Obama…you might say "What in the World," right? Well, as the New Yorker's Evan Osnos points out, that scenario is a rough analogy for what is going on in China today.

Some of you will remember that in the first week of 2014, we began the show suggesting that this would be "the year of China," meaning that the country was likely to go through enormous changes that would make or break its rise.

But even we have been surprised at how much has happened on almost all fronts. China is now being ruled by a new generation, spearheaded by President Xi Jinping who has consolidated power and appears to be the strongest and most ambitious Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping. Consider what he has been doing in just one year in office.

First and most significantly is the anti-corruption drive. And at the forefront of that is the expansive investigation into Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security tsar, once head of China's National Petroleum Corporation and a former member of China's "untouchable" Politburo Standing Committee. Zhou is the man who has been called China's Dick Cheney by Osnos.

Authorities have detained several of Zhou's family members and associates and have seized assets worth $15 billion dollars. And President Xi has taken his anti-corruption drive to the military as well, exerting much more influence than did his predecessor. One result: officials reportedly charged former General Gu Junshan of using his power to amass illegal wealth, pointing to his posh homes and other extravagances that could not have been bought on a military salary.

The second area where one sees great change is the environment.

Everyone talks in China about the unbearable smog. A study released last July shows that air pollution in northern parts of the country can actually cut life expectancy by an average of 5.5 years.

Well, Beijing has now decided to begin a clean-up, promising to spend $280 billion to fight air pollution. This year, China has started to directly monitor and publish the pollution impacts of its biggest 15,000 culprits. China's urban middle class now routinely protests against not only polluted air, but polluted water as well. And in February, China announced a plan to spend $330 billion to clean up its water. This mass-scale, public effort may be a reaction to increased discontent, but it’s also about the economy. The impact of environmental degradation cost China 9 percent of its GNP, according to the World Bank.

Perhaps the most important set of proposals, not just for China but for world, are Xi's plans for economic reform. Last November, the party announced it would maintain its authority over the Chinese economy, but would allow the market to play a "decisive" role. The government vowed to take a less active role in the allocation of resources and said it would allow the private sector to invest in state-owned enterprises.

And in perhaps the most striking development, Premier Li Keqiang told a parliamentary meeting in March that China aimed to expand its economy by 7.5 percent this year but (and here's the key part) that growth would not get in the way of reform. Until now, the party has not faced up to reforms, always pushing them off and goosing the economy to keep jobs growing.

Now let’s be clear. So far, economic reform is all talk and little action. And one thing you don't see in this flurry of new policies and proposals is anything about political reform, moves toward greater pluralism or democracy. That's because the goal of all these ambitious measures is to strengthen the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, not to weaken it.

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Topics: China • Economy • What in the World?

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    And why should we be upset if Dick Cheney be arrested? He SHOULD be. In fact if he leaves the country he very well might be! Just as GWB may be as well. They both are wanted for war crimes.

    April 15, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • Judica

      Yes. He should be arrested. He is an old unrepentant war monger.

      April 15, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        According to Xi Jinping, China is supposed to be on its way to forge reforms, but no the Soviet-style glasnost or perestroika. As much as Putin laments the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster of Russia's modern history, Xi also warns against swift and sweeping changes, fearing China would end up like the Soviet Union.

        April 16, 2014 at 9:17 am |
  2. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    April 15, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  3. GOP Prayer - GOPers, Read Together and Out Loud With Me

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    April 15, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  4. HeyHey

    Because there intent isn't to co- exist with America but to tear it down as with the majority of the old world.

    April 15, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  5. chrissy

    And an oportunist in the most disgusting way possible! The loss of human lives just to make money! A human pig!

    April 15, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  6. Ferhat Balkan

    Cheney and Bush dragged the US into a senseless war in Iraq thinking that they can profit out of oil. Those 'Weapons of mass destruction" that they claimed Iraq possessed turned out to be nothing but made up stories. Ask yourself: Is Iraq any better now? It is because of Bush and Cheney that the US and it's NATO allies are now war weary and unable to intervene in situations where intervention may be necessary. Cheney still shows up on TV and blames Obama for not responding militarily to Russia's aggression. It's ironic though when you take Russia's invasion of Georgia into account which happened during GW's and Cheney's watch. What did they do then? Nothing! Cheney's hypocrisy is astounding. In some ways, Cheney is worse than Bush.

    April 15, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  7. chrissy

    Thank you @ Ferhat! That man is a poor excuse of a human being! I don't think many tears would be shed if he were arrested...except his own! And its sickening the number of lives lost due to his greed and GWBs stupidity!

    April 15, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  8. chrissy

    And i seriously doubt anyone would say...What in the World? Maybe you might here ....What in the World took ya so long though!

    April 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  9. chrissy

    Oops meant *hear*

    April 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    @ chrissy:
    Here, you and I find a rare disagreement.
    I think that I am one of the few in this forum who admire Mr. Cheney and will defend him as a fine man and leader.

    April 16, 2014 at 8:55 am | Reply
  11. Western Union

    America's reach is not into Chinas territory, so stop worrying about China, and start working on a US defense plan to block Chinese. Once you let 'chinese capital' into US market – can start counting 'americans in chinese coffins'.

    April 16, 2014 at 9:17 am | Reply
  12. chrissy

    So @ Joey, you endorse the needless deaths of people to further an agenda of greed? I must say i thought you were better than that. But ive been wrong many times and apparantly i was again.

    April 16, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply
  13. d4drd

    41.

    warning

    you may be watched
    do usa&israel use the internet(facebook,youtube,twitter, chat rooms ..ect)to collect informations,can we call that spying??
    they ask for ur name,age,gender,occupation,location&sometimes political point of veiw?!?!
    do they record&analyse everything we do on the internet,,can they harm you using these informations??
    تحذير قد تكون مراقب
    هل تستخدم امريكا و اسرائيل الانترنت بمواقعه (فيس بوك,يوتيوب,تويتر,غرف الشات....الخ) للتجسس؟
    warning you may be watched
    do usa&israel use the internet(facebook,youtube,twitter, chat rooms ..ect)to collect informations,can we call that spying??
    they ask for ur name,age,gender,occupation,location&sometimes political point of veiw?!?!
    do they record&analyse everything we do on the internet,,can they harm you using these informations??
    تحذير قد تكون مراقب
    هل تستخدم امريكا و اسرائيل الانترنت بمواقعه (فيس بوك,يوتيوب,تويتر,غرف الشات....الخ) للتجسس؟
    warning you may be watched
    do usa&israel use the internet(facebook,youtube,twitter, chat rooms ..ect)to spy??
    do usa&israel use the internet 2 collect informations,,can we call that spying??
    they ask for ur name,age,gender,occupation,location&sometimes political point of veiw?!?!
    do they record&analyse everything we do on the internet,,can they harm you using these informations??

    April 18, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  14. chrissy

    Lol yesss @ d4drd we know already! Come back and let us know when they are able to actually able to detect REAL threats to the US citizens! May be another 50 years though so i dont imagine ill be around that long!

    April 18, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  15. Matt

    Then there would have been no deal, made it with David P."It is a club if you are lucky enough to get into it". Like all clubs only the members know the rules and obligations. After Colorado, Duke was warned before, Jorge off tap. Charges.

    April 28, 2014 at 11:39 pm | Reply

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