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All the things Xi said
China's new president has raised eyebrows by talking about 'a Chinese dream'. Can he deliver?
China's new leader, Xi Jinping, is surprising many with his forthright ways by repeatedly referring to a "Chinese dream". This appears to have caught the fancy of many Chinese youth, who have been quickly linking it to what they know of the more famous 'American Dream'. But could such rhetoric actually translate into greater freedom in China?
"I firmly believe that the great dream of the renewal of the Chinese nation will come true, "said Xi last November, soon after he became general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. These are two of the three most important posts in China. And after taking up the last remaining job, China's presidency, in mid-March, Xi mentioned "Chinese dream" in eight out of 14 paragraphs of his inaugural speech. It's clear to many that this new leader is consciously raising expectations, perhaps a dangerous gamble. But Xi is clearly banking on his personal charm.
"For the common people, the most important aspect of 'Chinese dream' is the need for higher income. The next in terms of priority is greater freedom from controls, " says Chen Zhao, deputy director of China Centre for Economic Studies at Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University. But Xi is promising a lot more perhaps. "To actualise the goal of the struggle;to build a well-off society in an all-around manner;to build an affluent, strong, democratic, civil and harmonious modern socialist country, and to actualise the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, is to make the country affluent and strong, the nation prosperous, and the people happy, " said Xi in the presidential address.
In fact, China's new premier Li Keqing has also come up with some heady stuff. "We may also have to confront some protracted problems as we will have to shake vested interests, " Li said in his first press conference. "Sometimes stirring vested interests may be more difficult than stirring the soul. No matter how deep, we will wade into the water. In pursuing reform, we need to have courage, wisdom and tenacity. "
So is China's "great rejuvenation" really round the corner ? A woman journalist points out that her dream is to live with dignity. "People cannot live with dignity because there are so many restrictions in every aspect of life. There must be greater freedom, " she said, while refusing to be named. Such fear of being questioned, even among journalists, greatly explains the situation on the ground.
But Party old-timers prefer to remain in their comfort zone where the theme of 'strong nation and strong party to lead the nation' has long reigned supreme. This has guaranteed the continuance of China's one-party system - often described as "socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics" - without allowing much political freedom.
"Great renewal can't be achieved without accomplishing the people's dream, and people's dream can't come true without a stronger nation, " Ding Yuanzhu, deputy head of the Policy Advisory Department in the state-run Chinese Academy of Governance, wrote in a party journal.
But the youth want change, and an end to dogma and crony capitalism. There is a widespread feeling that industrial liberalisation has only benefitted officials and select businessmen. The common refrain among struggling students in Beijing and Shanghai is: "the country is rich, but I am poor. "
Tens of thousands of people have posted comments on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, and other websites about what Xi's idea of a dream may be. The reactions range from hope and enthusiasm to outright scepticism.
One blogger wrote about her dream in the micro blog, Sina Weibo: "No school fees, employment opportunities, doctors that don't sell government-supplied drugs on the sly, food without poison, Chengguan (security gaurds) that don't hit people and an unpolluted environment. "
Xi's promises raise two questions: Is he ready to take on vested interests within the Communist Party and push through difficult political and legal reforms? Or, is the government planning to simply stuff more money into people's pockets and stall the democracy debate for a while?
Many feel Xi's team will face stiff resistance from the party's rank and file, which is enmeshed in a time warp of industrial growth and dictatorial controls. They may force a second alternative.
The economic alternative is easy because China has $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. The last Hu Jintao government poured $586 billion by way of a stimulus package to fight the financial crisis in 2008.
"There is no need to spend too much money. The private sector can be depended upon to build more houses and produce more. The government needs to make regulatory changes to allow the private sector and individual citizens to grow. That really is the challenge, " Chen, the Fudan University professor, said.
It's a challenge nearly 1. 4 billion Chinese citizens, and many more across the world, regard carefully. They're all waiting to see if Xi will cast the first stone.
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