Shaping China's future peacefully

Shaping China's future peacefully


CHINA'S decision to relax its one-child policy is just one aspect of an ambitious blueprint for the future unveiled by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang earlier this month.

Other changes include an end to the hukou (household registration) policy in smaller cities, and the use of labour camps - now seen as a historical anachronism and a political anomaly.

Both wide-ranging in intention and specific in detail, the map for the road ahead shows the two leaders eager to set the country on a new and steeper course of change since Deng Xiaoping changed the national direction with his economic reforms of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

How quickly the latest reforms, announced after the Third Plenum, are implemented and how well they are sustained will shape the legacy of China's current leadership.

If it achieves its aims, the result will be an improved version of the new China that came into being in 1949, when it shook off the shackles of war and civil turmoil to emerge as an Asian power, recovering the prestige that had been eroded by colonialism, unequal treaties and humiliation at the hands of imperial countries far and near.

These reforms are far-reaching. The one-child policy, once justified on the grounds of preventing a Third World-like population explosion that would have frittered away the fruits of economic growth, has fallen prey to the law of unintended consequences.

It has become a key reason for a demographic decline that foretells China's future as an ageing society, the bane of developed economies.

The hukou system does grave injustice to migrant workers, an essential source of the labour-intensive economy, by restricting their access to state benefits that city dwellers enjoy. Unifying rural and urban social security systems will help integrate Chinese society and strengthen the popular base to weather economic changes better.

These changes will be natural as China moves towards a more market-based economy.

What happens in the world's most populous country and second-biggest economy will have great international implications.

There are fears about how a resurgent China could behave, towards its smaller neighbours in particular, especially in asserting territorial claims.

However, no less horrendous are the prospects of a faltering and wounded China regressing into an encircled and cornered nationalism armed with historical pride and nuclear weapons.

Other countries are more likely to encourage China on its path of reform and consolidation and wish it well, if China demonstrates its peaceful intentions not just in words but also in how it fulfils its international role as a rising superpower.

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