China reform agenda seen under ideological cloud

Chris Buckley – Reuters

Copyright Reuters Monday, March 6, 2006
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s economic progress is being threatened by
ideological rifts and bureaucratic profiteering, a senior official
economist said, as China’s parliament began discussing a national
development plan.
Members of the government-vetted National People’s Congress on Monday
mostly extolled the blueprint for continued economic growth while
spreading more wealth to the country’s poor that Premier Wen Jiabao
presented at the opening session on Sunday.
But Wu Jinglian, an influential economist who sits on an advisory
council that meets alongside the parliament, said China faces deep
problems not fathomed by official plans — and solving them is stalled
by official self-interest and contention between pro-market reformers
and resurgent leftists.
“The visible foot is treading on the invisible hand,” he told Reuters,
speaking of official control of market deals.
“At issue is whether we want a true market economy or bureaucratic
capitalism, and under these complex conditions, pushing reform forward
has become extremely difficult,” he added.
Wu, 76, is chief economist at the State Council Development Research
Center, a high-level government think-tank; he has regularly advised
China’s leaders and helped draft the new five-year national
development plan.
His bold comments were part of a rising debate about the direction of
China’s economic reforms that has spilled over into the current
parliamentary session.
On Sunday, Premier Wen presented plans to raise government spending in
the countryside and improve the welfare of farmers. He promised to
protect farmers’ rights, but did not mention land reform, an issue his
key adviser on agriculture recently broached.
“We must respect farmers’ wishes and avoid formalism and coercive
orders,” Wen said.
China has seen rising rural unrest in recent years, often sparked by
officials requisitioning farmland and then selling it for commercial
development with nearly all the profits going to themselves.
In 2005, China saw 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other “mass
incidents,” according to official estimates — many sparked by rural
land disputes.

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