Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping will be elected president of China, and Mr. Li Keqiang will be named premier, during the National People’s Congress session that kicked off Tuesday. The NPC session continues through March 17.
The new Chinese leadership should tackle social problems in earnest — such as the yawning income gap between the rich and poor, corruption and environmental disruption — left over from the leadership of the Hu Jintao presidency. It also should pursue a policy of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, instead of an aggressive hard-line policy.
While in office, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao stressed the need for political reform. But such reform did not materialize. Corruption has worsened and people’s dissatisfaction has increased. In his report to the congress, Mr. Wen stressed the need to ensure that people enjoy a wide range of rights and freedoms on the basis of the law. Apparently aware of resistance from party conservatives, he avoided phrases like “reform of the political system” and “human rights.”
Mr. Wen set China’s economic growth goal for 2013 at 7.5 percent, the same as in 2012 and down from the 8 percent goal for 2005-2011. He promised to improve the quality of life by reforming the income distribution system, promoting environmental protection and ensuring the safety of food and drugs. Chinese government spending on environmental protection for fiscal 2013 will increase 12.1 percent to 328.6 billion yuan (about ¥4.9 trillion). Still, the amount is less than half the military spending, which will increase 10.7 percent in fiscal 2013 to 740.6 billion yuan (about ¥11.1 trillion), roughly 2.3 times Japan’s defense spending.
Mr. Wen said the Chinese leadership must “make sure that people are content with their lives and jobs, society is tranquil and orderly and the country enjoys long-term peace and stability.” But people’s discontent with social problems is nearing its limit. According to a leading member of the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences, mass protests and riots over environmental pollution have been increasing an average 29 percent every year since 1996.
A survey shows that China’s Gini coefficient, which measures the degree of income disparities, was 0.61 in 2010. It is said that a society risks becoming unstable if the figure tops 0.4. A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality and 1.0 expresses the maximum measurable degree of inequality.
Air pollution caused by PM2.5 particles (the diameter of each particle being 2.5 micrometers or less) is partly attributed to poor quality automobile fuel. There is criticism that a major state enterprise producing the fuel opposed improving the fuel quality because of concerns about rising costs.
The new Chinese leadership should dare to break opposition from vested interests and carry out necessary reform. Mr. Xi, who will become China’s top leader, should realize that he cannot govern his country without the support of 1.3 billion Chinese people. He should refrain from fanning nationalism and concentrate on solving domestic problems.