Two decades back when one of the big daddies of the dragon nation Deng Xiaoping was exiting from the pinnacle, there was mad clamour in the Western media about how China would collapse. Nothing of the sort happened.
A decade later, when Jiang Zemin was on his way out, all eyes were on China again and whether it would be able to sustain its gravity-defying rise on the world stage. The proof was for all to see. From being the No. 5 economy of the world, China is today giving the United States a serious chase for the top slot.
The sustenance of the China miracle keeps interest alive in the Communist country. Of those in the West who were crying Cassandra, their voices have been drowned or muted.
Regime change has become a tradition that is diligently followed each decade and effects smooth transition. The madness of the curious, arcane and absolutely opaque political system of the country must have a rational method. Because every time, it works.
China is a giant that’s here to stay and thrive.
But times do change. And Xi Jinping, 59, who is tipped to be the next Communist Party chief and President, will find at hand a new set of challenges.
The first of those will begin at home. Or the party rather. Long gone are the days of Mao type of uncontested supremacy. Though the CPC espouses single party rule, it is now dominated by two factions – the ‘populist’ and the ‘elitist’. As the names suggest the populist group comprises those who have risen bottom up, while the elitists are the so called ‘princelings’, who are the children of high ranking officials and have had the best of privileged upbringing and very often foreign education and represent business interests.
Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who is slated to take over as Prime Minister, actually represent these disparate groups and would have to walk the tight rope to keep both factions in good humour.
Besides maintaining the delicate balance internally, these fight generation of leaders know that there is no alternative to pushing political reform. Because that would be a pre-requisite to the next push - economically, politically and socially.
If one were to go by the statement of the outgoing Hu Jintao, we should not expect a western style democracy supplanting the current system. In his speech, the President clearly said, “We will never copy a Western political system.”
“We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure, and make people`s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice," he added.
So cosmetic changes are probably what one would expect from the new Chinese regime.
The other warning that Hu Jintao rung loud was of the deeply entrenched problem of corruption. In his 90-minute televised address, he cautioned that venality could prove “fatal” for the country and could even perpetuate a “collapse”.
"All those who violate Party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have, must be brought to justice without mercy," he said.
These words echo true when shocking scandals have been making news ever more frequently. The Bo Xilai case, which included a murder of a British businessman, is being followed closely worldwide.
Just ahead of the opening of the 18th Congress, the New York Times published an unflattering report of premier Wen Jiabao’s family having accumulated wealth of up to USD 2.7 billion. Earlier, former railway minister Liu Zhijun was sacked on charges of corruption and similar allegations have even been levelled against Xi Jinping himself!
On the economic front, China faces a slowdown like the rest of the world and its growth rate has come down from the 10-12% level to 7.5%. The economy that has already been hit by slowdown of exports is also facing problems in the form of inflation and internal debt.
Besides, high growth rates are normally accompanied by rising expectations and bitter rich-poor and rural-urban divides that would need to be addressed.
Labour dispute resolution methods would have to be put in place and effects of rapid development on environment redressed.
Abroad, China would need to find the fine balance between maintaining trade ties with the United States even as it wards it off through military brinkmanship in South China Sea and elsewhere.
China will continue to remain allergic on the ‘Triple T’ – Tiananmen, Taiwan and Tibet.
As they say, some problems just refuse to go away.