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Reforms may ring changes for generations

Updated: 2013-10-14 06:32
By Ed Zhang ( China Daily)

At the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia, President Xi Jinping shed some light on the program that is still being developed for China.

Going through his speech, one finds that it was not just a piece to assert China's role for an international audience. He showed his grasp of the real issues and attempted to address real concerns in his own society.

In about a month, some new reforms are to be decided upon and announced to the public by a top-level conference in Beijing. People are keen to know what the reforms are - and how they are to be carried out.

In a survey on the financial information site on Oct 8, more than 40 percent of respondents said they believed the coming conference will be a success, while less than 30 percent voiced pessimism, and another 30 percent remain undecided.

The stakes are high. People know the reform programs are not just important for how much money they can make and what kind of houses they are going to live in, but may shape the country's future.

One wrong move could cost dearly, both economically and politically, just as President Xi said: "On fundamental issues, no blunder can be allowed."

So naturally, people are paying attention to the individuals who are helping the leaders frame their reform schemes - and those who are advising them.

Recently, international media profiled Liu He, who was vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission and has long been a key figure in Beijing's reform-planners' circle.

The Chinese business press says the 62-year-old Liu has been a drafter of economic policy statements for the past three Chinese presidents.

In fact, Liu is a representative of the pool of scholars-turned-economic administrators that China has built up since when Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji were at the helm of reform.

In the past 20 or so years, those people have drawn on rich experience in helping China determine its orientation toward what it calls a socialist market economy; in its accession to the World Trade Organization and thereby enlarging its role in the global economy; in essentially emerging unscathed from the world financial crisis in 2008; in designing its transition from export dependency to a balance of manufacturing, domestic consumption and technological progress.

Their studies on all the issues arising from China's development will contribute to the intellectual content of the country's next round of reform.

For example, it was only this March that the issue of urbanization was highlighted in Premier Li Keqiang's "government work report" to the National People's Congress, as a new driver to sustain China's above-7-percent annual growth in GDP over the next decade. But the issue was not raised on a passing whim. Policy advisers have long been studying urbanization, in which China's lack of progress is recognized with candor and treated as a potential opportunity for generating change.

Liu's opinions were already passed around in policy review forums a few years ago on the would-be models of the country's urbanization - through multiplying of small cities, highly concentrated mega-cities, or city-clusters.

The reform planners usually hold advanced academic degrees. But extensive fieldwork in different parts of the country has equipped them with knowledge about the diversity and complexity of the issues they are about to deal with - and insight into which issues are affecting the country's long-term development, as well as in what way.

In a month, Chinese leaders will start using their new reform designs to talk to the people and to convince more investors from the outside world.

The author is editor-at-large of China Daily.