Xi’s long march

via finacial times

Beijing has weakened its social controls, not dropped them

The list of reforms announced by China’s Communist Party on Friday is impressive and wide-ranging. But a striking aspect of the blueprint presented by President Xi Jinping is how much it was about streamlining and tweaking policies that already exist and how little marks a true break with the past. In essence, Mr Xi is hoping to address the many grievances of ordinary Chinese people to shore up support for continued one-party authoritarian rule.

In keeping with the rise of a more demanding middle class, the party has decided to make its social controls less onerous, including loosening the much-derided “hukou” household registration system and the one-child policy. But the party has still not abandoned the illiberal idea that the state can and should control where people live or how they choose to have children. So while two parents used to be allowed to have more than one child if they were both only children themselves, the rule has been relaxed so that only one of the parents needs to be an only child. Evolutionary progress perhaps, but scarcely a quantum leap.

Nowhere in the many reform pronouncements is there a mention of more political participation or the creation of the checks and balances that would be the most effective way to tackle rampant corruption. The party makes reference to an “independent judiciary” but unless or until the party is willing to give up its explicit control over the courts, this will remain an empty slogan.

While insisting that China must create a more innovative society and economy, Mr Xi’s administration is also tightening control over the media, ideology and particularly the vibrant Chinese internet.

Whether these two contradictory goals – more innovation and more thought control – can be squared is questionable. Mr Xi must therefore hope that his incremental reforms can improve people’s lives enough to head off demands for more substantive political change.

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