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Xi Jinping Is No Reformist

Xi Jinping takes over the reins of the Chinese government in one month, and many middle class Chinese hope he pursues a reformist path. But they’re likely to be disappointed. Though Xi has hinted publicly numerous times that he leans toward reform and opening, in private he is much more conservative, even rigidly so, swearing to his close advisers that he won’t be a Chinese Gorbachev, that he won’t be responsible for allowing Communist rule in China to deteriorate. A summary of a speech he gave to party insiders in Guangdong in December was leaked to the press, and it lays bare Xi’s firm conservative foundations. The NYT reports:

China must still heed the “deeply profound” lessons of the former Soviet Union, where political rot, ideological heresy and military disloyalty brought down the governing party. In a province famed for its frenetic capitalism [Guangdong], he [Xi] demanded a return to traditional Leninist discipline.

“Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered,” Mr. Xi said, according to a summary of his comments that has circulated among officials but has not been published by the state-run news media.

“Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone,” the summary quoted Mr. Xi as saying. “In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist.”

This little speech strongly suggests that China’s political structure and the official rules aren’t changing very much as the party struggles to hold on to power. But Chinese society continues to become more pluralistic and lively, readier to debate and insistent on controlling its own destiny.

Xi faces problems Mao never did, and like it or not he has to govern China differently. The trouble for the Chinese Communist Party is that if it succeeds at the technocratic governance that can make the economy grow, Chinese society will become even more complicated and pluralistic, with new interest groups and more educated, prosperous urban middle class people who want more autonomy, better information, and a say in the decisions that affect them.

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