Contrary to the common misperception, China's economic growth has actually been accompanied by an extensive trickle-down effect. This is clearly manifested in China's most creditable achievement in its poverty reduction program, with millions of poor people having been lifted from poverty. In short, the CPC has turned many "proletariat" into property-owning and car-owning middle class. In 2010 alone, the total automobile sales in China amounted to 17 million units.
Rapid economic growth has naturally produced many undesirable social side-effects, including acute problems like increasing income inequalities and serious environmental degradation, which are crying out for attention. Many of these problems can be and will be gradually resolved through further economic growth, as growth itself will generate the necessary resources to deal with them.
Other problems need active policy intervention. For the CPC, there is no lack of political will to tackle them. In fact, the newly released 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) is basically designed to address those problems. With little doubt, the CPC will continue to effectively manage China's various problems on the economic and social fronts.
Going forward, the major challenge to the CPC in future will come on the political front. After successful economic reform and economic development, it is high time for the CPC to proceed with its political reform, just to follow Deng Xiaoping's priority of letting economic reform take precedence over political reform.
Political reform means different thing to different people. For China today, the priority of political reform is obviously for better governance first; but eventually it will mean a more open political system with faster pace toward greater democracy. Of course, "democracy" for China does not necessarily mean the Western form of democracy.
In fact, the CPC's top leadership has already embraced the idea of democracy. Hu Jintao has also said: "Without democracy, there can be no socialist modernization". The CPC is presently concentrating on intra-party democracy and experimenting with local elections. But the process needs to step up in future. Many scholars take the view that further political reform is an inevitable part of China's social development.
For the CPC to stay in power and stay relevant, it needs to constantly adapt and change in line with changing political and social demands. The CPC under the present leadership has earned its legitimacy by bringing unprecedented economic prosperity to China.
The challenge for the younger generation of the CPC's future leadership is to complete China's unfinished business of political reform by implementing a new political order that is not just more open and more liberal, but also socially and culturally compatible with China.
The author is professorial fellow and academic advisor of the East Asian Institute, Singapore. He was formerly its research director.
(China Daily 06/25/2011 page6)