China Leaders to Release New Economic Blueprint

China's Communist Party ends a four-day closed-door meeting Tuesday focused on achieving more efficient economic growth. The party is attempting to address pollution, income gaps and social unrest created by the country's uneven growth.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

After a quarter century of rapid economic growth, China is now tallying the human and environmental costs of its development. Communist Party leaders are meeting in Beijing today to adjust their economic strategy to address the income gaps, pollution and social unrest that this uneven growth has produced. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Beijing.

Good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Hi. Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: How does the new vision of China's growth differ from the old one?

KUHN: Well, the Communist Party Central Committee has been meeting behind closed doors since Saturday, and later today, it's expected to release an economic blueprint for the next five years. And it's different in that over the past quarter century, China has quadrupled the size of its economy, and during this time, it's really been very focused on producing material goods and just ramping up raw GDP, raw economic growth.

Now we're in a situation where the richest 5 percent of the country owns half of China's bank deposits, and this gap has helped to fuel over 74,000 protests last year, according to official statistics. So we can expect to see from this report that's coming out more of an emphasis on the equality and sustainability of economic growth; in other words, fewer industrial accidents, less pollution, less inequality and more spending on social services.

The problem is that officials have been promoted in recent years because they've raised, you know--according to how they've raised their GDP figures. So now they're gonna have to factor in these other social and environmental costs.

MONTAGNE: So the government wants you might call a more humane development. How does that square with recent crackdowns on freedom of expression?

KUHN: Well, on one level, it's not too surprising because President Hu Jintao is still consolidating his grip on power. His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, and his allies still retain some political power, and so we can expect to see more of this political jockeying and silencing of dissent in the coming months: jailing of journalists, closing of NGOs and Web sites, etc. But there's also a disconnect here in that if President Hu is going to empower these poor and disadvantaged people, he's going to have to give them more rights to protect their interests, and the vision he's articulating here does include more checks on officials' power, more accountability and transparency, but so far it looks like he's talking about accountability to him and the leadership rather than to the average citizen.

MONTAGNE: Well, is there any sign that President Hu is moving to appoint his successor?

KUHN: Well, yes. President Hu is 62 and he's expected to retire by age 70. People are looking to see whether he can maneuver his allies into key positions, including the party's political bureau. But I think the main thing is that during this plenum, we can expect to see the rise of a younger, different group of leaders. During Jiang Zemin's era, most of the leaders were Soviet-trained engineers. Now a lot of them are gonna have more of a background in the humanities, and that's going to help his development strategy to place the emphasis on more humane development.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

KUHN: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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