There is no parliamentary cut-and-thrust; there are no televised debates or florid, adversarial rhetoric. But China’s leaders are engaged in a vigorous debate about the country’s direction as they jockey for position before next year’s transition of power to a new generation. And, in a rare departure from the disciplined displays of unity that characterise the communist elite, they are beginning to air their differences in public.
“The gap between people holding different opinions is pretty large. It is also evident to the public, which is very rare,” said Qiu Feng, a liberal scholar from the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing.
“There are differing views. There were before, but they couldn’t be seen easily. Now leaders have expressed them in public,” said Professor Zhang Ming, of the political science department at Renmin University.
But there are growing hints of an internal debate about the country’s economic and social direction, amid increasing unrest and concerns about economic prospects. Some see this as a choice between the “Chongqing” model and the “Guangdong” model. “This phenomenon is caused by the extremity of China’s social problems,” said Qiu. “On the one hand, over the past 30 years we have seen the emergence of China’s middle class, who now have a stronger appetite for political participation and rights protection. The Guangdong model is focusing on this social structure. On the other hand, [there is] a wealth gap, which is what the Chongqing model is about.”