Leading article: Turbulent times as China chooses its future

Share
Related Topics

When David Cameron signed a £1.4bn trade deal with China yesterday, he might have been forgiven for wondering which China he was dealing with. Until recently, a new revolution appeared to be taking place in the country. Meteoric economic growth seemed to be bringing a greater openness to the world, greater freedoms for China's emerging middle-classes, a fairer legal system and a new awareness of individual rights. But since Mr Cameron went to Beijing last November and gave a tentative thumbs-up, things have been moving in the opposite direction. There is a new nervousness and uncertainty inside China. Its peculiar brand of authoritarian capitalism seems to be reverting to a greater authoritarianism all round. In the struggle between conservative and liberal factions within the leadership, hardliners are firmly in the ascendancy.

Things began to go wrong with the uprising in Tibet in 2008 which provoked a military clampdown. Even more violent was the reaction to unrest in China's other great western frontier province, Xinjiang, where the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. China set its face against any criticism from the West, and when the Nobel Peace Prize was last year awarded to the jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, the line became even more uncompromising.

Attitudes hardened towards peaceful political reform; even Aids activists and campaigners on China's babymilk scandal were arrested. The regime began to imprison people just for expressing opinions in blogs. Human-rights lawyers, whose number had blossomed in a decade of tolerance, were detained merely for doing their job. The Arab Spring has only unnerved Beijing further. Spending is vastly up on rebuilding the domestic spy-networks which pay one citizen to inform upon another.

The rise of the hardliners has had another major consequence. China is greatly increasing its military spending. Officially up 12.7 per cent, the real rise is thought to be much higher. It is developing stealth fighters, modernising its missile systems, submarines, radar, cyber-warfare and anti-satellite weapons. It is building its first aircraft carrier to threaten US dominance of Far East trading lanes.

Its near neighbours are worried. Relations have been strained between China and Japan over the East China Sea, with its large potential reserves of oil and gas. It is in a land dispute with India. Its live-fire exercises are seen as threats by Vietnam whose oil exploration vessels have had their cables cut twice by Chinese naval boats in recent weeks. Last week the United States promised better military equipment to the Philippines navy to defend waters China covets.

It is to be hoped that all these hardline stances soften next year when the transition of power is over and the country's president and party general-secretary Hu Jintao has handed over the country's reins to his anointed successor Xi Jinping. The power struggles at the top of the Communist Party have slowed the economic reforms necessary to keep China growing at the rate the global economy requires. They have also put a brake on necessary political reforms – and yet have done so through a draconian clampdown which might yet provoke the very unrest and instability the hardliners so fear.

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, often speaks of the need for political reform, but he is either weak and isolated or not the reformer he purports to be. There has been a distinct lack of progress on many critical issues facing China and its economy during his 10 years in office. Only when we discover the name of his successor next year will we know how China will conduct itself at home and on the world stage in the decade to come.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick