Kyoko Altman at PostGlobal

Kyoko Altman

Hong Kong, China

Kyoko Altman has worked as a correspondent and anchor for CNN and CNBC, and as a news-magazine reporter for Japan's top-ranked news program 'News Station' on TV Asahi. She has covered more than twenty countries. Close.

Kyoko Altman

Hong Kong, China

Kyoko Altman has worked as a correspondent and anchor for CNN and CNBC, and as a news-magazine reporter for Japan's top-ranked news program 'News Station' on TV Asahi. more »

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Hu's In Charge?

It’s not about who leads China. Whether the top man is Hu Jintao , Li Keqiang or Xi Jinping makes little difference. As long as China chooses leaders through an ossified, secretive process that draws on candidates from a small pool of like-minded elites, all from the same party, it will only face more of the same.

China’s Communist Party has succeeded in engineering rapid growth, transforming the nation into the world’s fourth largest economy. But as that economy matures, the limitations of its authoritarian political system are becoming ever more apparent.

Communist leaders talk about tackling the overheated economy and narrowing the gap between rich and poor. They hold meetings about controlling the country’s voracious energy consumption. They make pledges to clean up rampant pollution. They call press conferences to talk about product safety. But too often, it’s all just talk.

Solving these problems will require tearing apart economic and political incentives that are by now deeply rooted in China’s developmental model. The key drivers of China’s rapid rise are runaway public spending, cheap exports and dirty, fuel-guzzling industries. Shifting to new sources of growth would threaten entrenched local interests, whether they be plant managers or town officials dependent on taxes from factories. And any drop in the pace of growth poses high risks to a party that has shed its ideology and staked its legitimacy on a higher standard of living.

So as they talk of protecting the environment or the poor, authorities promote heavy industry and arrest those who expose the polluters. Fearful of criticism, the party continues to suppress dissent, jailing more journalists than any other country since 1999. Without the checks and balances of a free press, an independent judiciary and multi-party competition, the government is incapable of anything more than cosmetic reform.

The temporary measures planned for the Olympics attest to the government’s inability to carry out real reform. The government has moved the poor to the city’s outskirts. It is considering keeping cars off the capital’s road and limiting the operations of factories for two months in order to reduce air pollution. It has a program to raise pigs specifically to feed the Olympic athletes to ensure food safety during the games.

But then it’s back to business as usual. China has become the world’s biggest polluter and one of its largest oil guzzlers. It seems incapable of policing its own goods. In this “harmonious society,” wealth is less equitably distributed than in that capitalist bastion, the U.S. None of this bodes well for China – or for the rest of the world.

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