China's president Hu Jintao opened the nation's 18th Party Congress this morning with a speech that lasted a staggering 101 minutes. The title says it all: “Firmly March on the Path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive to Complete the Building of a Moderately Prosperous Society in all Respects.”
It led Marketplace's China bureau chief Rob Schmitz to quip, "[Hu's] been known as one of China's most boring leaders, and he certainly went out that way."
But Schmitz says Hu did address some of the issues that have experts on China torn about the country's future. Corruption is one of them. "Corruption could cause the collapse of the party and the fall of country," Hu said in his speech.
Another is an economic tight-wire act that Hu's successor Xi Jinping will have to negotiate carefully. "China has to reform its economy and take money from its enormous state sector and put that into the private sector," says Schmitz. "And that's not going to be popular with what are powerful vested interests in China."
So does this mean China will loosen restrictions on citizens as well as markets? It seems doubtful, if the careful scripting around the Party Congress is any indication. Schmitz took a cab that had no hand cranks for the window. When he asked the cabbie why he'd removed the cranks, he replied, “I don’t know the specifics. I only follow orders. They asked me to take them off, so I took them off. I do what they tell me…I don’t ask why.”
Schmitz says the government is worried its people will write subversive messages on small pieces of paper, stick them into ping-pong balls, and toss them out the windows of cabs. So if that was the plan, consider it thwarted.