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China

'China's change offers little hope of great reform'

After Hu, comes Xi, China’s new man at the top. However, says DW's Matthias von Hein, the signs are that no great reforms are likely to take place any time soon.

The months of waiting and speculation are over - the Communist Party Congress has come and gone. The biggest political organization in the world has a new leadership. It is a leadership that will rule the world’s second largest economic power for the next decade.

Chinais a land ruled by one party - one that holds a tight grip. As far as this is concerned, there appears to be little chance of any fundamental change. If needs be, there might be differences in tone and style.

The new party chief Xi Jinping appears sophisticated and jovial - in stark contrast to his wooden predecessor Hu Jintao. However, political reforms are not to be expected from the 59-year-old.

Indeed, the composition of the inner circle of power, the Politburo Standing Committee - reduced in number from nine to seven members - would appear to contradict that. Conservative forces continue to hold sway.

Matthias von Hein
(Photo DW/Per Henriksen)

The fact that the party's new number three studied economics in North Korea, of all places, would suggest there is no bold intention to reform. In addition, two highly touted candidates have not even made it into this inner circle: the reformist chief of Guangdong province, Wang Yang, and the Harvard-educated Communist Party organization chief Li Yuanchao.

Some great challenges face Xi. In his first speech as party leader he addressed, among other things, the issue of rampant corruption. Just ahead of the change of power, corruption cases on a wide scale, and at the highest level, had caused a shockwave. Most notable was the case of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, whose wife was convicted of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

There was also the case of the railways minister Liu Zhijun, which caused a stir that lasted for months. Juicy revelations that turned up by US media research about the two billion-euro private fortune belonging to the family of current premier Wen Jiabao were censored, as was a report into the financial assets of the family of Xi Jinping, who is believed to have built up a fortune of more than 300 million euros.

These reports show that Chinese society is drifting apart. The social contract that has existed between the Chinese leadership and the middle class is on the line. According to this, people had waived their political rights, but benefitted economically. Environmental and corruption scandals have stirred the people. Trust in the safety of food has been destroyed, while the expropriation of farmers to make way for building projects has led to protests across the country.

Xi Jinping’s predecessor Hu Jintao has made no reform efforts to solve the country’s multiple problems during his ten years in power. Rather, he has tightened the screw of repression. As a result, critics talk of a lost decade. It remains to be seen whether Xi Jinping will merely try to treat symptoms, or tackle problems at their root.

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