Li Keqiang gave his first news conference on Sunday as China’s new premier, but don’t expect any real change to occur. During the conference, Li declared that economic reform was the highest priority of the party in order to ensure “sustainable economic growth.” Since Deng Xiaoping, China has sacrificed long-term stability for short-term growth by relying on foreign technology, innovation, and investment. As a result, China’s economy has flourished with an average annual growth rate of about 10% since 2008.
In 2010, despite the global economic downturn, China achieved a growth rate of 10.4 percent become the world’s largest exporter. However, China’s continued robust economic growth is uncertain, and the heavy reliance on foreign technology and investment leaves the country’s “future viability deeply in doubt.” In 2012, China’s economy suffered a 25% decrease in output from 2010, indicating the Chinese economy is not the indestructible juggernaut many once believed.
Communism significantly impacts the sustainable economic development of China. The Communist Party’s stringent controls over freedom of expression hinder creativity and entrepreneurialism that in turn retards long-term economic growth and sustainability. Through freethinking, innovation, and imagination are allowed to cultivate into new technologies, research and concepts that translates into economic growth.
Li also pledged that indigenous innovation, income distribution, and cyber warfare would be priorities under his leadership. However, like China’s past premiers and leaders, Li’s number one focus will remain Communist Party power despite rhetoric to the contrary. And in the face of growing economic decline, Li may be required to tighten social controls and limit individual freedoms to curtail an uprising against the party.
The objective behind social control, as with economic growth, is to ensure the continued rule of the Communist Party. However, the recent economic decline is potentially the spark that could launch the Chinese Communist Party into a paranoid frenzy resulting in a cessation of even more individual freedoms and deactivation of the internet similar to the aftermath of the Tienanmen Square Crisis. According to Susan Shirk, an expert in Chinese politics and former State Department liaison, “The worst nightmare of China’s leaders is a national protest movement of discontented groups-unemployed workers, hard-pressed farmers and students-united against the regime by the shared fervor of nationalism.”
Social protests and discontent has risen in the Communist nation in the new Millennium, doubling between 2006 and 2010 to 180,000. China’s Communist Party is, therefore, confronted with two conflicting options: either pursue “social stability,” or development and prosperity. There has been no indication the China will become a Western-style democracy in the near future.
Even though political and economic reforms would secure China’s global and economic position for the next millennium, China’s leaders continue to remain committed to single party rule. The CCP is concerned with “their own political survival,” not sustainable development. Therefore, China is unlikely to achieve the “sustainable economic growth” Li is championing.