Will China's new leaders implement bold reforms?
China's Communist Party transitioned to new leadership peacefully on Thursday. Rapid growth over the past decade has left the Chinese public wanting more. Will the new government deliver?
(Page 3 of 3)
Even though the economy appears to be picking up in the near term, analysts still expect growth to be closer to 5 percent than 10 percent by the end of this decade.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures China reinvents itself
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Some, both in and out of China, fear the government could then resort to nationalism and populism, already on display in Twitter-like microblog postings about territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, to deflect attention.
Ideally, to those pushing for political reform, the array of pressures will convince the party of the need for change, lest it become much harder later on.
Giving Chinese more of a voice could relieve some of their anger, even if they have little recourse to protect themselves from the arbitrary nature of unfettered political power.
The problem is that China's new leaders have never shown a hint of desire for political reform. Quite the opposite, China's leadership watched the Arab Spring and before that, the collapse of the Soviet Union, with alarm.
"Stability takes precedence over all else. Threats to stability will be nipped in the bud," said a source with ties to the leadership, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions.
Given the obsession with stability and the inclination to move cautiously, it could take a serious crisis to push China's leaders to accelerate change.
In 1989, broad political and economic discontent combined with inspiration from dramatic change in the former Soviet Union and other parts of eastern Europe sparked student-led protests in Beijing that were crushed, but only after setting off heated debate at the top of the party about whether it should introduce serious political reform.
"They recognize the problems but to actually precipitate action something actually has to get to - if not the tipping point - then close to a tipping point," said Damien Ma, an analyst at Eurasia Group.
"I'm not saying that you need a repeat of 1989 to get them to do something but there's a critical mass of people who say they can buy some more time."
In the end, the party's survival instincts could end up leading to the changes needed to keep the country on course - and ensure the party remains in power.
That instinct and the need to adapt was summed up by Bo Yibo, father of the now disgraced Bo Xilai and one of a group of party officials who went from fighting as rebels during the country's civil war to holding considerable power during the 1980s and 1990s, according to a source close to the Bo family.
"When you are the leader of a country with 1.3 billion people, you always have to stay one step ahead of them. Because if you don't, you will be trampled, and you most certainly will never get back up," the elder Bo once told the source.