“In the past, the high speed of economic growth could ease the problems. China’s pace of economic development has declined right now and it has exposed the social problems,” Gao said.
Others say that meetings and proposal requests commit Xi to nothing, and that any plans he develops will require the agreement of colleagues and party elders.
In particular, the skeptics insist, any political reforms that do occur are likely to be minor, most likely in the form of fresh attempts to explore “intra-party democracy.”
Jeremy Paltiel, an expert on the Chinese Communist Party at Carleton University in Canada, says that is simply a contradiction.
“The party cannot be an organization of executives who are subject to a single discipline and at the same time a deliberative assembly of people free to present their opinions and pursue their interests,” he said.
“If the discipline were to be relaxed, the party would cease to function as the backbone of the state and lower levels could no longer be relied upon to follow the will of the center,” Paltiel added.
Neither are economic reforms straightforward. Ideological opposition may have faded — these days, elders such as formers Chinese president and prime minister Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) have their own record of reform — but in its place are powerful vested interests. Economic and political power are more closely wed than ever.
Another powerful deterrent is the lesson the elite has drawn from the Soviet Union: that it would be most vulnerable at the moment of reform. Only a crisis, many think, could prompt major change.
Yet in the end, the future course of China must be down to its people, Beijing-based academic Deng Yuwen (鄧育文) said.
“Whether reform can happen depends on society, not the leaders,” he said. “If society strongly demands reform, even if the leaders don’t want to do it, they have to. For that reason, I think that the next generation will carry out stronger and more powerful reform than before.”