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Are Chinese leaders cleaning up their act?

China's ruling party is taking steps to address longstanding complaints about the gap between the rulers and the ruled.
Last modified: 6 Feb 2013 21:06

As much as it might have tried to hide it, China's ruling party has been wracked by one scandal after another.

The impeccable façade it had worked so hard to create has been tarnished, and the party is being seen by many as nothing more than a small privileged group of politicians who abuse their power and are entrenched in corrupt practices to keep the country's wealth in their hands.

Just weeks shy of a handover of power, China's leaders are determined to show that they are listening to people's concerns and cleaning up their act.

Public officials accused of wrongdoings have been removed from their posts.

There are now widespread anti-corruption campaigns.

Extravagance is being discouraged.

To illustrate how abuses of power will no longer be tolerated, 10 people were recently given prison sentences for illegal detention of people who intended to file complaints with the central government against abusive local officials.

Economic reform

The government has now announced an economic reform plan that intends to deal with the widening wealth gap that so many have been complaining about.

There will be a 40 percent increase in minimum wage over the next two years.

State-owned companies will be made to give a larger share of their profits to the government to be used on social security. There is also to be a clampdown on illegal sources of income.

The leaders can no longer afford to ignore causes for potential unrest, and must find a way to create social stability to ensure their party's survival.

"They understand that they are now under a lot of pressure to reform," Joseph Cheng, a professor at Hong Kong's City University, said.

"Therefore it is important for new leaders to demonstrate that they understand the problems, that they have a policy programme to overcome the challenges and they are ready to implement them. [...] The initial performance of the new leaders will affect their image, affect the processes to consolidate power and eventually will affect their capability to govern."

Heavily pessimistic

Many, however, remain sceptical. The tone in China's blogosphere has been heavily pessimistic, despite leaders' projected intentions.

"The policies are just hollow political talk. There's no focus, what a big disappointment," said one blogger.

"They want to raise the salary for public servants? Don't they earn enough from corruption?" asked another.

"Raising income level? Well, sounds like an excuse to make the rich richer, the poor would never be able to catch up."

Even economists point out that the new plan seems to be more about increasing the purchasing power of those who currently don't have much than it does about decreasing the wealth gap which has made so many so angry.

Some have called it "maintaining the status quo ... plus one".

China's leaders have set lofty goals for themselves.

Conservative estimates

Despite the massive economic gains the country has made over the last 30 years, much of China remains underdeveloped and impoverished.

Conservative estimates say around 130 million people of China's one billion-plus population remain poor and survive on $1 per day.

Others say the number of poor is actually much more than that.

The new leaders have promised they will decrease poverty in half within two years.

They have also said they plan to increase urbanisation, to create more cities with more jobs.

That's all well and good in theory, but reforms have failed before, and most of those who have "done wrong" have yet to be held criminally liable.

Until they are, and this current batch of reforms are implemented properly, there may be no silencing the growing rumblings of the dissatisfied... Then, the ruling party could have more to worry about than restoring its public image.