Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary Hu Jintao's speech to a senior course for ministerial officials and provincial heads at the Central Party School on June 25 has sparked a great deal of public discussion and media comment in the run-up to the 17th National Congress of CPC, set to take place in Beijing later this year.
Hu's speech clearly sets out what the immediate priorities are for China and how to achieve them: Uphold reform, avoid dogmatism, promote social harmony and work harder to build a well-off society.
Hu's speech is truly representative of the leadership style adopted since the 16th CPC Congress - realistic and sober-minded.
In fact, in my view, the most important message from the speech was Hu's call for all Party members to "remain sober" and always keep in mind the real situation of the country. This is the key to China's successful and sustainable development.
By making this call, Hu stressed that the concept of "scientific development" remains the CPC's key policy - economic development should be pursued. Certainly, this is the course China set out on following the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in December 1978 when reform and opening up was launched.
But, in my view, "scientific development" helps to update this policy and ensure it continues to be relevant and meet the needs of the people.
It does so by placing greater emphasis on sustainable development policies that put people's interests first. What is the point of economic development if it does not deliver this?
As a result, since the 16th CPC Congress, far greater importance has been attached to issues such as the environment, welfare, education and the well-being of the nation's underdeveloped regions, with a decisive shift taking place from pursuing economic development and notching up even higher GDP growth figures purely as an end in themselves.
Hu said: "Our Party's fundamental goal is to serve the people wholeheartedly. All our Party's endeavors and work are to benefit the people. We must always fully realize, safeguard and develop the fundamental interests of the broad masses of the people, regarding it as a starting point and the purpose of all of the work of the Party and country. We must be able to develop for the people, rely on the people to attain development, and let the people share the fruits of development."
Since the 16th CPC Congress, a number of important measures have been taken to ensure the Party does just that - serve the people.
First, and most significantly, were the package of measures implemented to benefit the nation's rural dwellers - the overwhelming majority of the population whose labors put food on our tables every day. These include:
Abolition of agricultural tax on January 1, 2006.
The allocation of 218.9 billion yuan ($28.9 billion) in subsidies for rural compulsory education from 2006-2010.
The exemption of students in rural areas of western China from tuition and miscellaneous fees related to nine-year compulsory education in 2006, with this set to be expanded to central and eastern regions later this year, a move relieving the financial burden on 150 million rural households with school-age children, accounting for almost 80 percent of the country's primary and junior middle school students.
More than 50 percent increase in public spending related to agriculture.
Reform and opening up has been good news, it has transformed the country in so many ways, but now is the time for the authorities to give a helping hand to the areas that have not benefited so much.
Already, these efforts are starting to pay off. A leading official from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security recently attributed the growing labor shortage in many developed coastal regions to the fact that many rural laborers are deciding not to become migrant workers, with improved economic conditions in their hometowns meaning they would sooner stay put.
However Hu's call for sobriety has yet to be heeded by some officials, who only consider the next step up the career ladder or, to put it bluntly, the easiest way to make a fast buck.
The vast majority are better off, but millions have been left behind - healthcare costs and profiteering takes place among those whose primary task should be healing the sick, decent housing is beyond the reach of many - with some officials colluding with property developers, and the recent "kiln slavery" scandal in Shanxi Province shows that some officials do not mind how low they stoop to make money.
However, in my view, the officials deserving an equal degree of opprobrium are those who either ignored the pleas for help from relatives of the "slaves" or simply turned a blind eye to the entire outrage.
Yes, a shift in emphasis has taken place from pursuing economic growth merely as an end in itself since the 16th CPC Congress, but recent findings from the National Development and Reform Commission show the desire of many officials to boost local economic output - and their own career prospects - has yet to be curbed.
This runaway economic growth has a number of serious effects. For example, it is creating a huge demand for energy. This in turn leads to the opening of more illegal and unsafe coal mines, whose rich owners then invest heavily in real estate in major cities, leading to huge prices that make housing unaffordable to many local people.
"The priority now is to prevent the economy from overheating," a meeting of the CPC's Political Bureau recently declared, after finding that some local governments are continuing to invest heavily in high resource-consuming sectors.
"All the local governments, especially leading officials, should implement the central government's measures to the letter," said the meeting. But the test of how effective the overall measures to improve the governance capacity of the CPC and build a law-governed society are is to see how many actually do this.
The author is a senior copy editor at China Daily
(China Daily 08/16/2007 page11)