News Analysis: China’s Unique Economic Model Gets New Scrutiny

But now, with the recent political upheavals, and a growing number of influential voices demanding a resurrection of freer economic policies, it appears that the sense of triumphalism was, at best, premature, and perhaps seriously misguided. Chinese leaders are grappling with a range of uncertainties, from the once-a-decade leadership transition this year that has been marred by a seismic political scandal, to a slowdown of growth in an economy in which deeply entrenched state-owned enterprises and their political patrons have hobbled market forces and private entrepreneurship.

“Many economic problems that we face are actually political problems in disguise, such as the nature of the economy, the nature of the ownership system in the country and groups of vested interests,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing. “The problems are so serious that they have to be solved now and can no longer be put off.”

On Thursday, China released data that showed its economy was continuing to weaken. many economists have been urging the government to loosen controls over the financial system, to support lending to private businesses while reining in state-owned enterprises, to allow more movement in exchange rates and interest rates, and to improve social benefits.

Such changes would curb the state’s role, lessen corruption and encourage competition. But making them would involve a titanic power struggle. Executives of Chinese conglomerates, army generals, Politburo members, local officials and the “princeling” children of Communist Party elders have little incentive to refashion a system that fills their coffers.

Another significant aspect of the China model is the growing security apparatus. Its heavy-handed tactics in pursuit of social stability have been called into question by, among other things, more than 30 self-immolations by disaffected Tibetans and a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States precipitated by the plight of a persecuted dissident, Chen Guangcheng. a well-documented uprising last winter against corrupt officials in the southern village of Wukan ignited a debate about how protests should be addressed: by the sword of the security forces, or through mediation by senior officials.

But it is the scandal over Bo Xilai, until recently a member of the party’s elite Politburo, that has most humbled those who previously praised the well-oiled nature of China’s political system and its appearance of unity.

Before the charismatic mr. Bo lost his party chief post in Chongqing, other leaders were already starting to view him as an increasingly intolerable maverick. after arriving in Chongqing in late 2007, mr. Bo began what was billed as a crackdown on crime, along with a revival of Mao-era singalongs and welfare policies, aimed at generating populist backing and winning political support from the “new left,” or hard-core socialists, for his bid to join the top-level Politburo Standing Committee, which is scheduled to turn over this year.

Mr. Bo’s bid veered sharply from the traditional route of ascension, which since the era of Deng Xiaoping has been one of back-room patronage and shadowy negotiations among party elders. the problem now in China is that the powers of those elders have diminished with each generation — the current president and party chief, Hu Jintao, is weaker than his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who was much weaker than mr. Deng.

With the dissolution of power, a multitude of factions and alliances are emerging under one-party rule, with no one voice able to impose order.

“China needs a system in place more than ever,” said Wang Kang, a liberal writer from Chongqing. “Only a system can guarantee stability.”

Some say that the purge of mr. Bo was a correction in the political system, and that the system has returned to normal. But many others argue that given the growing incoherence at the top, and the diversity and reach of mass media in China, it is inevitable that more politicians will adopt mr. Bo’s populist methods. Cheng Li, a scholar of Chinese politics, noted that at the annual National People’s Congress in March, several rising sixth-generation leaders gave prominent news media interviews, a form of self-promotion that was a break from tradition.

“There are no clear and steadfast rules,” said Wu Si, chief editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu, a journal of politics and history. “In this confused state, there is bound to be someone like Bo Xilai who deploys various methods to compete to enter the standing committee.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting, and Li Bibo and Edy Yin contributed research.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b4ed9735aa537cb42bcad87dd2d3a01d

News Analysis: China’s Unique Economic Model Gets New Scrutiny


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