China leaders start key economic ‘reform’ summit

November 9, 2013 12:22 pm
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Chinese para-military police stand guard in Tiananmen Square as security is increased on the eve of an important Communist Party Congress in Beijing on November 8, 2013/AFP
Chinese para-military police stand guard in Tiananmen Square as security is increased on the eve of an important Communist Party Congress in Beijing on November 8, 2013/AFP
BEIJING, Nov 9 – China’s ruling Communist Party began a key meeting Saturday to dictate the direction of the world’s second-biggest economy for the next decade.

The official Xinhua news agency said the gathering of the party Central Committee would discuss a draft document on “major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms” in the Chinese economy, a key driver of regional and global growth.

The meeting, known as the Third Plenum and which takes place amid intense security and secrecy, has traditionally set the economic tone for a new government, and past meetings have been used to signal far-reaching changes

Recent reports in party and state media have singled out key issues at the four-day meeting as potentially including land and administrative reforms, as well as reducing protections for powerful state-owned enterprises.

A government think-tank, meanwhile, called for dismantling the residency registration system known as “hukou”, which restricts access to medical insurance and other benefits for migrants.

China also faces important issues including oppressive air and environmental pollution, and how to retool its economy to ensure more sustainable growth.

The meeting comes a year after China embarked on a once-a-decade leadership transition, with Xi Jinping taking over as party general secretary before becoming state president in March this year.

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.

Xinhua said the party draft document “pools the wisdom of the whole party and from all aspects” and is expected “to advance the reform that has lasted for more than three decades”.

The agency, however, reported no concrete details.

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

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

The Global Times newspaper, which has close links to the party, alluded to such challenges in an editorial.

“Different groups in society have different – or even conflicting – interests,” it said.

Analysts say broad brushstrokes rather than firm details are more likely to emerge from the meeting after it concludes Tuesday.

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