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China

Sleepless nights ahead for China's new leadership

Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are stepping down from office, leaving behind a number of pressing problems that are certain to cause some sleepless nights for China's new leadership.

China has been resembling an active volcano of late, with minor eruptions every now and then - most recently in February. Then, an open letter appeared on the Internet, signed by more than 100 intellectuals, journalists and lawyers.

The letter begins: "On the eve of the opening of the 12th National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, as China's new government prepares to take the stage, we solemnly and openly propose the following as citizens of China: that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights be ratified, in order to further promote and establish the principles of human rights and constitutionalism in China."

Conservative positioning

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the fundamental human rights conventions of the United Nations. Although the Chinese government signed the ICESCR in 1998, the People's Congress - China's pseudo-parliament - has yet to ratify it.

People's Congress meeting

The National People's Congress convened on March 5

"By signing the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at that time, Beijing wanted to achieve the urgent goal of joining the World Trade Organization," Wu Qiang, a political scientist at Qinghua University in Beijing, told DW.

For Wu, who signed the open letter, the hesitant and conservative attitude of the Beijing leadership is the reason for the covenant not being ratified a decade after being signed. After all, he says, it guarantees freedom of expression, the right to assemble and other political rights that are frequently violated in China.

Nor is this the first open letter to land on the desk of the Communist Party leaders. At the end of February, more than 140 Nobel laureates also demanded the release of the dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for alleged "subversion of state power." He has been in prison since 2009.

Balancing act

The biggest problem facing China's new leadership is how to handle the many different challenges it faces at the same time, according to Eberhard Sandschneider, a Chinese expert and Director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. "The most difficult task is surely is to maintain social and political stability in parallel to economic growth," he told DW. "But that, of course, is a mammoth task, which breaks down into many small, individual tasks."

Eberhard Sandschneider 
Photo: DGAP/dapd

Chinese expert Eberhard Sandschneider expects the new leaders to focus on stability

The Communist Party derives a significant portion of its legitimacy for governing China from the economic progress of the past 30 years. Large parts of the population have benefited from that growth. But in the meantime, the gap between rich and poor has widened. The frequent connection between political power, business interests and corruption has caused deep dissatisfaction and anger among many Chinese. The catastrophic pollution and the lack of secure food controls is causing some doubts about the system even among China's new middle class, which has benefitted the most from it.

Xi Jinping who was appointed Communist Party leader in November will be elected president by the People's Congress on March 14. In his fourth month as party leader, Xi has repeatedly announced a crackdown on widespread corruption. But such promises were also made by the former government leadership, largely without success.

Only comprehensive political reforms will eliminate the basis for corruption, which is essentially the lack of a separation of powers. But there are no signs of this happening. That's why political scientist Sandschneider expects that for Chinese leaders, it will not be about democracy in the Western sense but about stability.

DW.DE