China’s new leader, Xi Jinping has just assumed power in the country. While sometimes the coming of a new leader means little more than a change in whose name appears at the bottom of official documents, this guy is walking in with a serious agenda. He wants to make some changes and he’s not shy about saying so. His first movement is to ban the “royal lifestyles” of communist party members in an effort to curb corruption.
Corruption is, as most know, one of the biggest problems in China. During its more heavily communist years, the government of China could do pretty much anything they wanted, including hording money and spending the people’s taxes on useless crap. Now that capitalism is taking root in the market this tendency of old is shifting form. The leaders use their influence to secure control of key profitable industries and make their bank accounts swell even bigger. Many have tried to combat this corruption, and many have fallen from grace because of their convictions. But now it’s time for Xi to take a shot at it.
The plan that he submitted involves cutting back on the ceremonial aspects of government officials’ lives. He is trying to prohibit the expenditure of money on things like elaborate presentations and great banquets as well as calling for a halt to “empty talk” - the useless meanderings that many politicians are prone to during public speeches. He also wants the state-run press to avoid reporting on these ramblings.
When asked why he chose to attack this type of waste, Xi noted that corruption and self-indulgent officials have cause many problems, and not just in China. The world has seen more than its fair share of problems due to corrupt governments. There have been uprisings, such as in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and protests, such as the Occupy movements in the U.S. and other places. He has no wish to follow these examples.
In my opinion, this is one of the best things the Chinese government can do to help their situation. At the basic level, they will save money - money they can use for economic development. On a more interpersonal level, they will make themselves appear more human in the eyes of their citizens. When officials are seen as royalty or as a collection of rich, elite interests, the citizens do not identify with them. This leads to less trust and less obedience and thus, more problems.
Whether this is just a symbolic gesture from Xi remains to be seen. There is a chance that he may be just what China needs to get past the problems they’ve been seeing in the last year. Even if it’s the only thing he ever does, turning officials into servants of the people and not rich overlords who need to be indulged will go a long way toward making China one of the premiere states of the future.