By B. Raman
Pragmatism will continue to guide the policies of the new leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) headed by Mr. Xi Jinping which took over from the outgoing leadership headed by Mr. Hu Jintao on November 15, 2012.
The seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, who will lead the party and the country till the 19th Party Congress in 2017, belong to a transition generation which was born just before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 or in the early years thereafter.
Mr. Xi, who took over as the Party General Secretary on November 15 and will be taking over as the State President next March, and Mr. Li Keqiang, the No. 2 in the Standing Committee, who will be taking over as the Prime Minister next March, were both born in the early 1950s after the proclamation of the PRC. They will both be eligible for one more term in 2017 and hence should continue till 2022.
The other five members of the Standing Committee were born in the late 1940s just before communism triumphed in China and the PRC was proclaimed. They were young kids when the PRC was formed.
All the seven members of the Standing Committee are children of the participants in the Long March and the peasants’ revolution, but they themselves had not participated in the revolution under Mao Zedong. They grew up in Communist China under the leadership of Mao and they and their parents had seen the abject poverty and the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and its Red Guards.
It is a generation that had suffered the years of misery under the Cultural Revolution. It had also seen and benefited from the beginnings of affluence after the death of Mao and the opening-up of the economy by Deng Xiaoping. The children of this generation were the initial beneficiaries of the affluence brought in by Deng’s opening-up.
China is going to be ruled for the next 10 years by a leadership belonging to a generation that had seen the worst of poverty and disorder during the Cultural Revolution and enjoyed the benefits of affluence arising from the pragmatic economic policies of Deng.
The new leadership and its princelings will have a vested interest in the continuance of this affluence. It realizes that this affluence has been made possible not only by the pragmatic economic policies, but also by long years of political stability in the Han areas except in some pockets.
This affluence has also been made possible by pragmatic foreign policies, which have avoided unnecessary rhetoric and foreign adventurism despite sticking to China’s territorial sovereignty claims.
One can, therefore, say with reasonable confidence that the new leadership will follow a policy mix of economic pragmatism, avoidance of liberal political experimentation while continuing to pay lip service to the need for political reforms to keep pace with the economic reforms and non-provocation of external military conflicts while continuing to adhere to territorial sovereignty claims.
The world is aware of the tremendous prosperity that China has achieved in large parts of the country. It is not equally aware of the continuing poverty and inequalities in the interior parts and in the peripheral non-Han areas. These are the faultlines of China which can make it come unstuck if the leadership is not wise enough to address them imaginatively and with innovation.
We will see 10 more years of cautious and pragmatic rule that doesn’t aggravate the faultlines. The Chinese civil society today has three classes — the aging remnants of the participants in the Long March and the peasants revolution, the middle-age remnants of the days of the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards and the new class of the Internet generation, which has been rapidly growing.
While exhortations of caution and pragmatism are accepted by the aging and the middle-aged classes, the new class of the Internet Generation—the Internet Revolutionaries—- are tending to be more and more idealistic and challengers of the status quo.
The new leadership under Mr. Xi that took over on November 15 has the ability and experience to carry along with it the aging and the middle-aged classes and ensure that they do not rock the boat. But will it be able to handle with equal dexterity the new Internet generation? The answer to this question will decide the continuing economic prosperity and political stability of China.