• China’s Communist Party Meets on Economic Reform

    BEIJING, November 8, 2013 (AFP) – China’s ruling Communist Party starts a key meeting Saturday expected to focus on economic reforms a year after a closely watched leadership transition.

    The four-day session of the full 376-member Communist Party Central Committee takes place at a closely guarded private hotel in Beijing and concludes Tuesday.

    Known as the Third Plenum, it traditionally sets the economic tone for a new government.

    In the past, such meetings have been used to signal far-reaching changes in how China does business.

    Last November, China began a once-a-decade leadership makeover as Xi Jinping took over as party general secretary before becoming state president in March.

    The official Xinhua news agency proclaimed that the plenum “is expected to be a watershed as drastic economic policies will be unveiled”.

    Other reports have singled out land reform as a key issue, while a government think-tank called for dismantling the residency registration system known as hukou, which restricts access to medical insurance and other benefits for migrants.

    Analysts, however, have expressed scepticism and say broad brushstrokes rather than firm details are more likely to emerge from the meeting.

    “Expectations are not very high for the economic reform blueprint which will be spelt out at the plenum,” Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

    “This is because Xi Jinping has emphasised the values of stability and also incremental changes.”

    China most notably signalled major reforms at a Third Plenum in 1978, when it embarked on the landmark drive that has seen it transformed over the past three decades from a Communist-style command economy into a key driver of global growth, trade and investment.

    Although the economy is no longer completely party- and state-controlled, the ruling body holds huge sway, with officials in charge of key elements, such as the exchange rate, that in other countries are left mostly to markets.

    China’s leadership recognises that the country’s economic model largely based on state-financed investment needs to give way to one in which consumers and other private actors propel growth.

    But changing direction in the world’s second largest economy is no easy task given entrenched interests and ways, as well as its increasing complexity.

    “Intellectuals in Beijing are not very optimistic that the reforms introduced at the weekend will be as forward-looking and sweeping as those introduced by Deng Xiaoping 35 years ago,” Lam said.

    The People’s Daily newspaper, the official party mouthpiece, firmly rejected Western-style political reforms on the eve of the meeting.

    The party “must uphold its leadership… in the face of some people in society who advocate imitation of the Western system,” the paper said Friday in a full-page editorial.

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