1.3 Billion Problems For China

Along with the long term and painful solutions of economic (and political?) reform and personal sacrifice, Zhu also provided a short-term solution to the problem: a 17.6 percent hike in defense spending to combat "hostile forces inside and outside of China." Targeted aggressors included the convenient Fa Lun Gong, religious extremists and terrorists and generally anybody the Communist Party deems a threat to social stability.

The problems facing China are interconnected, solving one depends on the resolution of another. In order to understand this, consider that one of the major causes of all China’s problems is also its oft-touted greatest asset: 1.3 billion people.

Opportunities for gainful employment are scarce, even for highly qualified, highly motivated young Chinese. Most talented Chinese search for a placement with a foreign company in China or, better yet, abroad. For those unfortunates who can find neither a foreign company in China nor a scholarship, guangxi (connections) and luck are the only light at the end of a tunnel. Using guangxi is second nature to all people of every country, but in China, having no connections means having absolutely no chance at a good job. Thus we have (political) corruption.

As for the peasants, well, they dare not dream of good guangxi. Blood, sweat and tears for these fellows. Being at the bottom of the totem pole means shouldering the ridiculously heavy taxes that fund the trip abroad for the children of local leaders (or, in many cases, the lavish, debauched banquet to celebrate said trip.) Being at the bottom also means that roadside veggie vendors must haggle fiercely over pennies, that when the state owned enterprise goes belly up, you’re the first to be laid off. If possible, you move to the city and bleed some more and haggle even harder over pennies – all this amidst periodic crackdowns to enforce nebulous codes regulating the movement of the masses (the hukou and danwei systems). As a peasant, you either add to the urban unemployment and risk the wrath of the local city officials, or you squeeze as much produce as humanly possible out of plot of land and pay tribute to the local village officials.

Just feeding China requires a massive agricultural industry – now with foreign produce entering the market and the need for China to export food in order to stay competitive, the only result can be a further drain on an already tired and broken environment.

Meeting the WTO requirements will only exacerbate these problems. Russia and the EU recently banned Chinese produce due to unhealthy levels of antibiotics and chemicals – peasants must now improve and revamp their practices just to stay alive and be able to pay taxes to the local government, which in turn fudges any and all reports to the central government, which in turn tells the international community that all farms in Henan Province are up to (WTO) snuff.

If anyone believes that this will change in the future because Zhu demands it in a speech to an entirely powerless assembly of yes men is seriously deluded.

If population really is a major cause, then what could a possible solution be? Ignoring an AIDS epidemic? Mass executions? Of course not … Real solutions would entail harnessing the power of a billion people economically by allowing them to participate politically i.e. more freedom of choice and movement for the worker. To the Communist Party this is unthinkable, doubly so in these times of transition. And the government’s plans to put more money into the army squash any hopes of the cab driver who lamented the slow pace of modernization since the death of Deng Xiao Ping. Successors to the thrones are groomed apprentices – they will have their ears pricked to the words of their elders, just as Jiang listened intently to Deng’s mumblings up until the very hour of his death.

The Chinese government is doing anything any other government would do when pressed with serious domestic problems: give happy rhetoric about anti-corruption drives and economic reforms while inventing a boogie man (or men) and beefing up the country’s monopoly on force in preparation for the unrest to come. The difference is that China’s problems are infinitely more dangerous due to their size. An environmental disaster coupled with widespread unemployment would severely tax even the Chinese government’s capacity to spin the facts and destroy opposition. And what would the international implications be of a drop in that magic number (7 percent) growth rate?

The strength of the individual Chinese will to persevere and improve the country is a strong foundation upon which to rest one’s hopes, but without the political reforms that "dissidents and foreigners" have been calling for all this time, the will to persevere and improve the country may turn into a desire for "regime change."