It's been 91 years since China's Communist Party was first founded but, the party is growing increasingly antsy about its survival.
The Bo Xilai scandal has drawn attention to rampant corruption within the party. The public has grown increasingly outraged by the wealth gap, land grabs, incidents like the high speed rail crash, and government efforts to suppress protests and censorship.
Listening to Hu Jintao's speech at the 18th Party Congress one could tell the Communist Party (CPC) had taken note of growing public anger.
First, outgoing president Hu spent a significant amount of time talking about corruption within the party. He said corruption could "prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state," and toughened his rhetoric, warning that party members found guilty of corruption would be "brought to justice without mercy".
And another little detail caught our attention too.
In setting new growth targets, Hu said China would double its 2010 GDP and per capita income for rural and urban residents by 2020. This is the first time that per capita income had been included in the economic growth target set, according to Xinhua.
China's per capita income has been on the rise for some time now but residents are still unhappy. The country has a high Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality. The Gini coefficient is measured on a scale of 0 to 1 where zero expresses perfect equality and 1 expresses perfect inequality. The UN has said 0.4 is the level beyond which there is a risk of social unrest and China is reported to have a Gini coefficient above that critical level.
The government has for the eleventh straight year refused to publish the Gini coefficient because it claims that data on high-income groups is incomplete. But Caixin Online reports that it is because the government wants to mask the wealth gap in the country, another cause of unrest among the public.
In delivering his speech Hu acknowledged the income inequality problem and spent some time talking about boosting the incomes of the lower-income groups. From Xinhua:
China should deepen reform of the wage and salary system in enterprises, government bodies and public institutions, promote collective bargaining on wages in enterprises, and protect income earned through work, and increase proprietary individual income through multiple channels.
"We should improve the way in which income is distributed, protect lawful income, increase the income of low-income groups, adjust excessively high income, and prohibit illicit income," he said.
Academics like Minxin Pei (in a Project Syndicate column) have warned that the Communist Party is right to worry about its future:
"The CCP’s monopoly of public moral authority is long gone, and now its monopoly of political power is at risk as well. That loss is compounded by the collapse of the Party’s credibility among ordinary people.
For a regime whose credibility is gone, the costs of maintaining power are exorbitant – and eventually unbearable – because it must resort to repression more frequently and heavily.
But repression is yielding diminishing returns for the Party, owing to a third revolutionary development: the dramatic decline in the cost of collective action. ...If governing by fear is no longer tenable, China’s new rulers must start fearing for the CCP's future.
To this point, Cheng Li at the Brooking Institution has warned that "if the CCP intends to regain the public’s confidence and avoid a bottom-up revolution, it must abandon the notion of “authoritarian resilience” and embrace a systematic democratic transition."
If the Communist Party wants to secure its future, it needs to ensure that it is heeding the concerns of the public by bridging income inequality and stamping out corruption.
Note: The piece was updated to include comments by Minxin Pei and Cheng Li.
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