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LinkAsia | Feb 8
Growing concern over the gap between rich and poor in China is pushing the government to reform. The State Council has just issued guidelines to na...
The wealth gap is another problem under the spotlight in China, and it's been growing ever since China began its reform efforts more than 30 years ago. Key academic figures have recently been censored for arguing that the government has to move faster to close that gap. As our contributor David Bandurski tells us, further economic reforms seem to be stalled.
January brought a key milestone in China's push for reform and modernization. It was the 20th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's "southern tour," in which the leader, who piloted China's economic reform policies in the late 70s, re-invigorated reforms against staunch opposition within the Communist Party. "Let a few get rich first, and that will lead the rest to prosperity," Deng famously said. But after two decades of breakneck growth, the second part of Deng's slogan is an open question. Who has really benefitted from China's economic miracle? In early January, this man, Sun Liping, a prominent academic, released a report warning that powerful vested interests were now holding reforms hostage. "Today reforms have already become mired in trouble. Quite a few important reform measures have been shelved -- and there has been no progress on political reform." One of Sun's key points was that resistance to further reforms by powerful vested interests meant Chinese society was growing rigid, stratified into the rich who have access to power and the poor who are powerless. He noted the fact that cases of social unrest are sharply on the rise in China. One of the biggest dangers of the failure to reform in the face of growing social strife and inequality is that the idea of reform might fall out of favor with ordinary Chinese, who see reform as the cause of present-day ills. If China loses faith in reform, what would that mean for Deng Xiaoping's grand project? Could China stop in its tracks? Or even turn back? Propaganda authorities in China were clearly unhappy with the report from Sun Liping. Within hours a summary of the report from China Youth Daily newspaper was removed from the internet.
A link to the report on the website of the party's official People's Daily newspaper turns up the message:
"Page Not Found."
In response to news of the deletion, this user wrote on Sina Weibo:
"It's true, it's already been deleted from most websites."
And another responded with despondency:
"Reform in China is already dead."
As China stands at a crossroads, now is the time to talk and the time to listen to key voices like Sun Liping. But it is also a year of political transition in China, and that makes discussion of issues like reform extremely sensitive for China's leaders. So for now the issue of reform is "Page Not Found." In Hong Kong, for LinkAsia, I'm David Bandurski.
There were an estimated 180,000 instances of civil unrest in China in 2010. The source of that information? Professor Sun Liping.