Last week, Xi Jinping took office as the President of the People’s Republic of China, officially assuming full power of his position during National People’s Congress. During his closing speech, Xi called upon the nation to unite in the pursuit of one Chinese dream.
Xi Jinping was appointed as the general secretary of the Chinese Community Party (CCP) on the 15th November 2012, nearly 130 days ago. The whole world has expectations on them: maintaining China’s extra-ordinary economic growth, harmonizing internal conflicts, and managing foreign relations, particularly with the US.
But Xi’s desire for one unified dream lacks any real indicator of reforms but simply an intention to continue on the existing paths. “The China’s dream is shared by every Chinese; to realize the dream, we must all walk the Chinese path, divulge the Chinese ethos, and gather a cohesive Chinese force,” said Xi.
This outlook is a continuation of his speech as general secretary during the CCP national meeting in November. He calls for the cooperation of all Chinese citizens as they move to realise the country’s so-called “dream”, and to continue to bring prosperity.
Xi’s ambition for unity under one glorious vision is nothing new in the history of the Chinese Communists Party. In the past, both Mao and Deng promised a great future to ensure Chinese citizens. So is Xi’s speech. But what he doesn’t realize is the weight of expectation from inside the country for his government to follow a different direction. A calling for unity is not sufficient for people who have very specific demands.
Rural areas have been asking for a solution to the increasing income gap between the countryside and the urban areas; migrant workers ask for better working conditions and subsequent town permit issues; and the intellectuals and media are demanding greater freedom of speech.
Given Xi’s personal background, many in China expected him to deliver long-waited reforms. His father was purged and jailed during the Cultural Revolution while he served in the rural areas. His almost mythical upbringing instils in him a hybrid of the typical Communist ideologies and commensuration of hardship. He is seen as a successor of Deng Xiao Ping, the architect of all Chinese economic reforms.
With all expectations in hand, his speech fell short of any pragmatic steps. Whilst he sounded emotive on stage, the ideology lacks substances in reality. His “dream” idea calls for continuation rather than changes; Xi emphasized the stability and cooperation above all things.
The need for stability can be interpreted at both social and political aspects. Socially, he wishes to calm the growing divide between the rural and coastal areas because of increasing economic differences as a result of fast economic growth in urban areas. Rural areas started demanding for better pay, better education, and better welfares up to urban standard. The government made little consideration for the peasantry during the “open door policy” of the 1990s. But even now, as they see the growth and relative prosperity along the coastal areas, while the countryside remains destitute, there exists an increasing anger from the inner area in China.
Politically, calling for stabilities means a dismissal of potential political reform. To stabilize means a harmony of all voices to the existing CCP rhetoric. It requires the media to follow the views of the Party. There are multiple suggestions lying on the table, allowing multiple parties, democracy within Communist systems, a more popular vote, and democratic deliberation of local policies. But Xi has chosen the orthodox way and requires all citizens to disband their individual ideologies to opt for the official one.
But the one specific thing the he focused on is anti-corruption. He was adamant about bribery among government officials and the army. “An absolute ban on bureaucracy and hedonism, an absolute struggle on all decaying unscrupulous practices,” Xi said.
His words can be verified by his recent call for a number of high ranking officials to be investigated over corrupt activities. The rationale for this might be to allow an internal reshuffling to strengthen his control in the government and army, rather than an actual corruption reform.
People may see Xi Jinping as an opportunity to push reforms, but Xi has already shown he isn’t willing to make too many concessions. But as the national discontent reaches a boiling point, the people will push for specific changes, echoing the voices at Tiananmen Square.