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China and the fifth generation leadership


15 October 2012

Hu Jintao with Barack Obama
Current Chinese President Hu Jintao will soon be stepping aside as the country's new Politburo Standing Committee is appointed in November.

While the world's attention is focused on next month's leadership contest in the United States, the leadership change that will take place in China just days after the US presidential elections has received comparatively little attention.

Professor Kerry Brown, who will present a Sydney Ideas lecture this Tuesday 16 October, will look at the leadership transition occurring in the Communist Party of China as the era of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao draws to a close. He notes that while Jintao and Jiabao have guided China towards becoming the world's second largest economy, 120 million people are still living in poverty. Inequality, social stability and a sustainable economic future are just some of the issues China must address.

Despite these challenges "perhaps the most astonishing thing about the leadership transition currently underway is that policy issues have never reared their head," says Professor Brown, who heads up the University of Sydney's China Studies Centre .

"For all the speculation about who might be elevated to the body which runs the country - the Politburo's all-important Standing Committee - never once has there been talk of what policies the new leaders might support. The whole process has been policy-lite.

"November's Congress will appoint new leaders who are meant to appeal across the 82 million strong Party, and who are seen as part of a collective leadership where everyone broadly agrees. Argument and discussion about different policies has been shunned because it is viewed as disruptive and potentially destabilising."

While China has achieved astounding economic growth in the last decade to become the world's second largest economy, the next generation of leaders will rule China during a period when socio-political issues will be critical, argues Professor Brown.

China's fifth generation of leaders "will need to do something to create an effective social welfare system covering the city and the countryside, and address the huge inequalities that exist in China today," he says.

The new leaders will need to address tax reform, as well as public participation in decision making, and they will need to give civil society groups proper legal status, in an era when they will be supplying many of the services government will need.

"Making China a rich country was the easy stuff," notes Professor Brown. "Now the hard work begins."

Professor Kerry Brown is Executive Director of the China Studies Centre and Professor of Chinese Politics at the University of Sydney. He leads the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN). Educated at Cambridge, London and Leeds Universities, he worked in Japan and China's Inner Mongolian region before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. He served as First Secretary, Beijing, from 2000 to 2003, and Head of the Indonesia East Timor Section at the FCO from 2003 to 2005.

He is the author of The Cultural Revolution in Inner Mongolia (2006), Struggling Giant: China in the 21st Century (2007), The Rise of the Dragon - Chinese Investment Flows in the Reform Period (2008), Friends and Enemies: The Past, Present and Future of the Communist Party of China (2009), Ballot Box China (2011), along with an edited collection China 2020. Hu Jintao, China's Silent Leader has just been published, and he is working on the Palgrave Macmillan Introduction to China, to appear in early 2013.

Event details:

What: China and the Fifth Generation: China moves into the era of socio-political change, a Sydney Ideas lecture.

When: 6pm, Tuesday 16 October

Where: Law School Foyer, Eastern Avenue, the University of Sydney.

Cost: This event is free and open to all, with registration required. Please click here for details.

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Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 1584; 0478 303 173

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