The Communist Party of China is set to undergo a major leadership transition at its 18th National Congress later this year.
The world is watching to see if the party will reduce the number of Politburo Standing Committee members from nine to seven, whether Hu Jintao will continue to chair the Central Military Commission after stepping down as the party's general secretary, and how the party defines the Bo Xilai incident. These three issues not only reflect the power play within China's top leadership echelon but also the struggle between reformist and anti-reformist forces.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said that without political reform, it will be difficult for China to promote further economic reform. This demonstrates that political reform is critical to the development of China's economy.
In fact, the reforms initiated by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s gave equal importance to the economic, social and political realms. The efforts, however, were derailed by the 1989 Tiananmen Incident. Deng was still not able to bring social and political reforms back on track by the time he died in 1997.
With social and political reforms lagging far behind economic reforms, China has experienced a growing number of social and political problems that have been overshadowed by its brilliant economic performance. Among them are a widening income gap, a deteriorating environment, intensifying social conflicts and worsening corruption.
To a certain extent, Bo's fall from power has removed some barriers to reforms. But it also adds to the uncertainty of the next leadership lineup.
If reformist forces succeed in obtaining a greater say in the 18th National Congress, people will have reason to be optimistic about China's future economic development.(Editorial abstract -- Aug. 8, 2012)
(By Y.F. Low)