By Jackson Diehl

The worrying news from China is that the country appears headed toward an economicand political crash sometime in the next five years, if current trends continue. The somewhat better news is that a large part of the elite grasps that danger, and is talking fairly openly about the far-reaching change that will be needed to prevent it.

In eight days of meetings with Chinese academics, economists, journalists, businessmen and government officials this month, I encountered little of the rising-superpower hubris that might be expected from a country perceived in most of the West as an unstoppable juggernaut. Instead, I heard considerable anxiety about a slowing economy and an uncertain political transition this year, and even greater worry about the problems the incoming leadership team under Xi Jinping will likely face over time.

Most people I met during a tour of Beijing, Shanghai and the interior city of Changsha thought China would avoid an economic “hard landing” this year, despite a sharp slowdown in growth during the last few months. But many were concerned about whether the new leadership could manage the restructuring needed to keep growth going beyond the next couple of years — a shift from export industries and infrastructure investment to consumption and services for a rising middle class.

Similarly, few people seemed to think that Xi’s ascension this fall would be derailed by the power struggle reflected in the recent purge of populist Chongqing governor Bo Xilai — possibly because, like most of the world, they don’t know what is happening behind the leadership’s closed doors. But a surprising preponderance of my sources talked about the necessity of political reform and improvements in human rights to preserve China’s stability as its economy slows and shifts. (My trip with several other journalists was sponsored by the private China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, which is chaired by former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee Hwa). Read more…

Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of The Post. He is an editorial writer specializing in foreign affairs and writes a biweekly column.

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on May 28, 2012.


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