Florence Chong's picture

ONLY socialism can save China – and only reform and opening up can develop China, says Xi Jinping of his Third Plenum reforms . . .

XI JINPING ascended to his country's highest office with a catchy promise: to achieve The China Dream.
This month, at the Third Plenary of the Chinese Communist Party of China (CPC), he fleshed out how that dream could eventually be achieved for hundreds of millions of Chinese especially those living in rural areas.
Now the hard part: he will have to shepherd through his reforms against vested interests — a battle that will not be easily won.
While the CPC addressed reforms aimed at further opening and strengthening the Chinese economy — as widely reported in international media — a core focus was on addressing social inequality in China.
As is often said, the underbelly of China's dramatic success over the past two decades is the vast schism between the urban rich and the rural poor.
There have been countless protests, many of which have been swept under the carpet. But what is in the public domain gives outsiders a glimpse of the potential powder keg that could pose serious social issues — and threaten the existence of the Party itself.
Xi, who is also the CPC's Secretary General, reportedly instructed a team of 60 key Party members, charged with drafting the reform document, to work on a strategic plan for comprehensive and deepening reform.
If his social reforms are actually achieved through the rest of this decade, then the bulk of China's population will see a version of their own China dream come to pass.
It was the first time since 2000 that the party's top leader had led the drafting of a document to be tabled at a Plenary session.
The Third Plenum wanted "landmark documentation" that would be tested by the people, the real world and the times, according to the English language Global Times, owned by the Party’s People's Daily.
As well as his role in drafting the reform document, Xi is expected to chair a special reform committee, answerable to the CPC Central Committee, to ensure that the reforms are implemented by 2020.
Speaking to CPC members, Xi spoke of the imbalance between urban and rural development. He said this was an obvious conflict in China’s economic and social progress, as well as a major barrier in the development of a moderately prosperous society.
He said: "The urban-rural dual structure hasn't changed fundamentally, and the widening gap between urban and rural development hasn't been reversed. To solve these problems, urban-rural integration must be pushed forward."
Chinese media gave considerable coverage to the vexed one-child policy, which now allows couples to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. As well as responding to the  social needs of families, a loosening of these rules will go some way to help reverse China's labour problem.
Beijing will also begin research on how China's retirement age can be extended gradually — and it will address the issue of a universal safety net.
Western economists and the likes of the World Bank have long urged China to bring in a social security system — it is the only way China can increase domestic consumption.
Hukou (household registration), another source of social discontent, will be relaxed. More farmers will be permitted to stay in cities, but population control in cities will remain.
China's notorious labour camps, ostensibly there to re-educate dissidents, drug traffickers and others, without trial, will be phased out, starting in the next few months. Instead, the Government will seek to improve laws relating to correction and punishment, and to improve "community correction", which helps ex-convicts transit back to society.
Since time immemorial, Chinese citizens have had to travel to Beijing to petition the Central Government over their grievances. The petition system will be reformed, with establishment of an online petitioning system. The Government has promised "to strive to settle cases at the local level in a timely fashion".
Reforms will also cover education, with the aim of promoting equality and, ultimately, to produce all-round students.
In a nod to the market system, the Government will push forward with pricing reforms on sectors such as water, oil, gas, electricity, transportation and telecommunications.
The CPC pledged to clear barriers in the market and to improve efficiency and fairness in the allocation of resources. It will seek to create fair, open and transparent market rules, and to improve the market price mechanism.
The reforms broadly promote family operations as the basis for agricultural businesses, encouraging family farms, farmer co-operatives and rural companies to manage rural lands.
While analysts do not believe that enough is being made of land reform, the CPC plans to balance urban and rural development by allowing farmers to possess, use, benefit from and transfer their contracted land. They will eventually be allowed to use their land ownership as collateral or guarantee.
Eventually, farmer's rights to contract and manage land, and their real right to use their housing lands, will be better protected — while the mortgage and transfer of farmers’ residential houses will be "discreetly and steady implemented as a trial programme", according to reports in the Chinese press.
The reforms also aim to ensure that migrant workers receive the same income as their urban counterparts, and that people in rural areas share equally in the benefits of incremental values of land.
Last, but not least, the Third Plenary promised financial market system reform to allow qualified private capital to set up small- and medium-sized banks and other financial institutions in accordance with the law.
In all, more than 300 reform measures were adopted unanimously.
Echoing Deng Xiaoping's reform speeches in 1992, Xi said only socialism can save China — and that only reform and opening up can develop China.