To see a note from the editor, click here.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The 'Young Man'

In addition to its usual selection of stories on Chinese affairs, today Xinhua also published online an editorial-style reflection on China's rapid path of development, with particular focus on foreign perceptions of the People's Republic. Entitled “China: a developing nation with growing pains”, the piece commented that China is “still in its adolescence, developing rapidly and full of the vigor of a young man”. As Xinhua pointed out, compared to its industrialised contemporaries, the PRC is in good economic shape, recording growth of 9.1% last year in the face of the global recession. GDP in the same year stood at 34 trillion Yuan, a staggering figure when compared to 365 billion Yuan , being the figure for 1978.

The article also picked up on the questionable nature of China's status vis a vis the issue of whether it is still a 'developing' nation. There is some worldwide concern (both popular and political) over the shape the China of the future could take, especially if its economy continues to grow at a similar astonishing rate for the near future. According to analysts interviewed by the news agency, China should be be looking to expand its efforts to introduce the world to aspects of Chinese attitudes and culture (as its Confucian Institute scheme is aimed to do). In addition, the PRC needs to act on criticism levelled at it by those without “purposely harmful intentions”, to avoid becoming complacent over its seemingly prosperous future.

For Xinhua to publish such clear sentiments is unusual. While the subject of China's attitudes to its own development and foreign perceptions of the same has been tackled before, today's piece is perhaps reflective of a realisation in Beijing that the PRC needs to do more to slot itself into the international community. The Diaoyu Islands controversy with Japan has had a definite adverse effect on China's standing on the world stage, and this desire to alter foreign attitudes towards the Middle Kingdom can be seen as an attempt to overcome the recent setbacks.

Yesterday, over at the Asia Unbound blog, Elizabeth C. Economy discussed Premier Wen Jiabao's “Last Stand on Political Reform”. According to Economy, in an interview with CNN “Wen committed himself to fight for political reform, even in the face of what he acknowledges is serious adversity”. However, as she also points out, support from the rest of the Politburo for the Premier's plans for political reform is unlikely to be too forthcoming. Clearly, there is no significant desire for such a progressive political policy in Beijing at the moment.

However, Xinhua's article today did throw up something interesting. The editors chose to feature comments by Sheng Hong, director of the Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics. Sheng called for China to accelerate political reforms, and suggested that the Chinese government should listen to criticism coming from abroad in order to help it “step up its economic and political reform”. Bearing in mind that Xinhua is a state-run media organisation, the inclusion of Sheng's view must have come with the blessing of relevant authorities. Thus, while it is important not to make too much of this, there may be more pro-political reform elements in the Party than previously thought. Undoubtedly, Wen Jiabao will have been trying to gather people to his cause, a fact perhaps reflected in Xinhua's airing of these sentiments. Of course, only time will tell whether this is symptomatic of an evolving approach in Beijing or merely the Chinese media's equivalent of 'hot air'. Nonetheless, the article makes for fascinating reading.

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