Thirty years after undergoing a major revolution that de-collectivized agriculture, China is facing another major change in rural life as commercial agriculture spreads and as peasants migrate to the cities. This revolution in rural affairs, however, has been much more difficult. Cadres and peasants contend over land rights, growing income gaps between urban and rural areas fuel social discontent, and cities resist extending urban services to rural migrants. As the recent decision of the Third Plenum shows, China’s leaders are confronting the difficult issues involved, but are doing so cautiously. The Plenum decision also suggests that socially contentious issues that have boiled over in many places will continue for years to come.
Amid the global financial crisis and its strong impact on the Chinese economy, the Party leadership has embarked on another land reform plan. This ambitious development plan promises to give farmers more rights and market incentives that will encourage them to subcontract and transfer land. It will also give incentives for surplus rural laborers to move to urban areas. What is the impetus behind this new round of land reform? What are the principal objectives and policy initiatives? How well are China’s leaders going to be able to handle a socioeconomic transformation of this magnitude? What are the possible negative consequences of this reform? What kind of leadership division might occur? What sorts of local versus national fissures might this new development strategy open? Will this land reform be able to significantly reduce the economic disparity in the country, thus increasing domestic demand in China’s vast rural areas? This preliminary analysis of the launch of Hu Jintao’s land reform aims to shed light on these timely and important questions.
To put it in Dickensian terms, the recent period has seen both the best of times and the worst of times for Taiwan. Significant progress has been made on many aspects of cross-Strait relations, primarily in the economic realm but in some respects extending beyond that. However, the extent to which enhanced economic links will provide relief for the increasingly troubled Taiwan economy is not at all clear. Moreover, how far the non-economic gestures and signaling will go in terms of satisfying Taiwan’s quest for "international space" also remains a question mark. But, at year’s end, PRC President Hu Jintao seemed to reflect flexibility in responding to the strong desire in Taiwan for "international space" and also presented other ideas for progress. At the same time, the advances in cross-Strait relations have also occasioned considerable domestic political turmoil in Taiwan, sharpening the divide between the government and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and exacerbating a struggle within the DPP over how closely it should tie itself to the fate of former president Chen Shui-bian.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s decision in early October to approve a reduced package of arms sales to Taiwan was generally well received on the island, but it led to a sharp rhetorical response from Beijing and a suspension of military-to-military exchanges with Washington. The suspension was expected to be short-lived, however—and probably will end with the inauguration of President Barack Obama on 20 January 2009. In general, both Beijing and Taipei made efforts to consolidate relations with the Bush administration in its waning days as well as with the incoming Obama administration. But even as this period closed, the PRC felt constrained to caution the United States that it is determined to protect its "core interests" and that Taiwan—along with Tibet—remains China’s core interest.
In a speech delivered on Christmas Eve 2004, Hu Jintao introduced a new set of "historic missions" for the Chinese armed forces. These missions constitute one part of a broader revision of the PLA’s "strategic guiding theory," derived in large measure from Hu Jintao’s overall ideological guidance on "scientific development." This article examines the timing, content, dissemination, and implementation of the "historic missions," which is a useful test case of Hu’s relationship with the PLA as reflected in military political work.
The reversal of economic conditions China has undergone since mid-year 2008 has occurred with a speed and thoroughness rarely, if ever, seen in history. In July, policymakers were still concerned with legitimate worries about inflation and overheating. By the end of October, they were scrambling to cope with an alarming economic slowdown. Given the centrality of economic growth to Chinese social and political equilibrium, policymakers returned to an intense focus on economic growth. The Chinese political system then did what it arguably does best: It concentrated policymaking resources on the most critical priority, in this case, propping up economic growth. By the time of the postponed Economic Work Conference (8–10 December), the entire apparatus of Chinese policymaking had been concentrated on the practical elaboration of a multidimensional and multiphase stimulus package. The leadership has been united on this push.
Over the year since the 17th Party Congress in October 2007, the main working departments of the Party Central Committee have seen significant turnover in leading personnel. Adjustments in the top leadership of these departments serve to strengthen party General Secretary Hu Jintao’s hold on the Party apparatus well beyond his limited effort to do so in his first term as Party leader.