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Ready for your close-up, Mr Xi?

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In this volatile context, the "class struggle" terminology once again is very much alive. The supreme paranoia though remains the possibility of a fiscal and financial crisis. Xi has up to 2022 to prevent China from plunging in the abyss of a "middle-income trap" and interminable stagnation. That would be the post-everything equivalent of Mao Zedong's dreaded luan (chaos).  

Officially, at least it's now recognized that China's "glorious decade" is over. Dubya in the US spent eight years in power -- with cataclysmic results. Hu Jintao -- a Republican-style diehard conservative with the charm of a boiled cucumber -- spent 10. His legacy may not be exactly stellar, in terms of an increasingly authoritarian streak, China's abysmal inequality spreading out, and the environment being plundered as if there's no tomorrow.  

In Hu terminology his "glorious decade" was all about building a "harmonious society" -- laced with plenty of "scientific development" and a cheesy, widespread blossoming of "happiness." In fact, this boiled down to "We know best. And don't try to contradict us; after all, we rule absolutely and control everything" -- as in the Party, the police and the propaganda machine.

Pentagon honchos, take note: the Party does spend more on an immense law enforcement network than on defence. Any elections in Chinese villages where independent candidates became too popular were duly "discontinued." And this is now a monster; the Communist Party boasts no less than 83 million members. Organized dissent, to change this state of affairs, has to happen in Star Wars mode. 

The Sino-change guy

In absolute terms, Hu's record is quite impressive. Ten years ago, China's economy was slightly bigger than Italy's (we're talking about volume, not manufacturing quality); now it's the world's number two, with a shot at becoming number one before 2020. It already is the world's top exporting power. China's GDP per capita though is still a mere $5,400 (yet five times more than in 2002).

Under Hu, the Party got rid of taxes on farmers and introduced China's version of Obamacare -- "Hucare"? -- spread out to 97 percent of the countryside, as well as a very simple pension system. At least 95 percent in a population of over 1.3 billion now has access to some form of health insurance. True, the real estate bubble may burst with cataclysmic consequences -- but an investment of no less than $800bn has yielded at least 36 million new houses completed during the building boom. 

Hu will be out of the picture next week, but still in. His network will remain leading whole provinces and top bureaucratic posts. Just like his predecessor Jiang Zemin, Hu is bound to remain at least for another two years as head of the Party's all-powerful Central Military Commission. Only four months ago, in a crucial speech, he stressed once again that without the Party at the helm as "the indomitable leading core of socialism with Chinese characteristics," China won't go anywhere.

Will this vision prevail? All eyes are now on Xi. Chinese hardliners want more neoliberalism and a whiff of political opening. True communists want, well, respect to the tenets of the faith. And then there's the Hu position -- which has been a cautious application of Deng Xiaoping's famous "crossing the river while feeling the stones" maxim. The problem is now Xi faces more of a stone avalanche. 

How's that for suspense? Xi might eventually be the candidate of Hope and Change that China needs. Maybe then he will learn what voter micro-targeting is all about.

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Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His regular column, "The Roving Eye," is widely read. He is an analyst for the online news channel Real News, the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and (more...)
 

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