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The 18th National Congress and China's Political Reform

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For the past week, Beijing has been in a state of lock-down; military and police line the streets, sporting events have been cancelled, and street vendors have been told to pack up shop. This comes as the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China gathers this week to install a fifth generation of leaders.

The 18th National Congress will mark the beginning of a vast transition process. 2270 of China's elite - state leaders, ministers, top military generals, provincial governors, mayors of major cities, managers of large state-owned enterprise, and state bankers - will meet to appoint 370 members to the Central Committee, out of these 370 roughly nine will be elected to the Politburo Standing Committee - the country's top political body. Roughly two-thirds of the Central Committee will change hands and it is speculated that seven out of nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee will be replaced, including president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao.

What will happen throughout the week-long process, besides allocating members into various positions of government, will be to formulate policy reform and set out specific goals, missions and guidelines for future development. In short, these decisions will determine the make-up and orientation of China into a decade which will only see them grow as a more prevalent economic and military global leader.

The recent pace taken off China's economic growth is starting to reveal the stresses of a government that, in recent history, has placed a lot of emphasis on economic prosperity. A burgeoning middle class, an environment pushed to its utmost limit, a party in the midst of corruption and scandal, disputed land coupled with rising tensions over national sovereignty, and a country that is ever more increasingly connected through the internet is proving to test the integrity of the party. This has led state media and academics to believe that stalled reform is now the most imperative issue facing the Chinese leadership.

Granted, it is foreseeable that this power transition is likely to install new leaders into the Politburo that are younger and are more likely to be warm towards reform. Many have studied overseas and have more experience abroad and they are more likely to have studied subjects such as law rather than engineering. However, political reform is unlikely. If the Politburo were to take steps towards a democracy, the government would lose the will of their people. The party would, in effect, cease to function as the backbone of the state - something that has held China's rise together

Confucian values such as hierarchal structure and moral and law are embedded in the organs of China's political machine. Yes, Chinese culture has evolved considerably in recent times but group consciousness and respect for those is position remain strong as ever in the ethos of most Chinese. Given the sheer size and massive population of China, undoing these structures towards a more liberal democracy would prove, I dare say, insurmountable.

Industrialisation, which has opened the gap between rich and poor, perhaps suggest another impediment to real action being taken towards political reform during the 18th National Congress. Uneven development has harboured resentment amongst the poor towards the promise of liberal globalisation and the ideals that govern it. Once again, China's geographical and population size highlight the disparity amongst those, the minority, enjoying the benefits that a modern industrialised economy are bringing to their country and those, the majority, who are not.

As China becomes ever more immersed into the global political economy over the next decade they will undoubtedly feel the strains pulling at them from both sides. It will be a difficult balancing act for the new leadership. On one hand, social unrest and inequality are sure to remain a point of contention. It can be assured that the new era will usher in a more informed and connected populace. The other, will see the party reluctantly handle the mantle of greater global leadership in the face of a growing economy and regional hegemony.

How China's new generation of leaders tackle the issues at hand, will no doubt give a clear indication to world leaders, scholars and pundits whether or not this will indeed be China's century.