Sun, Nov 10, 2013 - Page 1 News List

China starts key ‘reform’ summit

AFP, BEIJING

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday began a key meeting to dictate the direction of the world’s second-biggest economy for the next decade.

Xinhua news agency said the gathering of the party’s Central Committee would discuss a draft document on “major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms” in the Chinese economy, a key driver of regional and global growth.

The meeting, which is known as the Third Plenum and takes place amid intense security and secrecy, has traditionally set the economic tone for a new government, and past meetings have been used to signal far-reaching changes

Recent reports in party and state media have singled out key issues at the four-day meeting as potentially including land and administrative reforms, as well as reducing protections for powerful state-owned enterprises.

A government think tank called for dismantling the residency registration system known as hukou, which restricts access to medical insurance and other benefits for migrants. China also faces other important issues, including oppressive air and environmental pollution, and how to retool its economy to ensure more sustainable growth.

The meeting comes a year after China embarked on a once-a-decade leadership transition, with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) taking over as party general secretary before becoming president in March.

Although the economy is no longer completely party and state-controlled, the CCP holds huge sway, with officials in charge of key elements, such as the exchange rate, that in other countries are left mostly to markets.

Xinhua said the party’s draft document “pools the wisdom of the whole party and from all aspects” and is expected “to advance the reform that has lasted for more than three decades.”

China’s leadership recognizes that the country’s economic growth model, largely based on state-financed investment, needs to give way to one in which consumers and other private actors take the lead in propelling expansion.

However, changing direction is no easy task given entrenched interests and ways, as well as the economy’s increasing complexity.

The Global Times newspaper, which has close links to the party, alluded to such challenges in an editorial.

“Different groups in society have different — or even conflicting — interests,” it said.

Analysts say broad brushstrokes rather than firm details are more likely to emerge from the meeting after it concludes on Tuesday.

“Expectations are not very high for the economic reform blueprint which will be spelt out at the plenum,” said Willy Lam (林和立), an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“This is because Xi Jinping has emphasized the values of stability and also incremental changes,” he said.

China most notably signaled major reforms at a Third Plenum in 1978, when it embarked on the landmark drive that has seen it transformed over the past three decades from a communist-style command economy into a key driver of global growth, trade and investment.

However, “intellectuals in Beijing are not very optimistic that the reforms introduced at the weekend will be as forward-looking and sweeping as those introduced by [late Chinese leader] Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) 35 years ago,” Lam said.

The People’s Daily newspaper, the official party mouthpiece, firmly rejected any Western-style political reforms on the eve of the gathering.

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