As China holds the18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, the world ponders upon the challenges and perils the country will face in the midst of political transition. As China grows in economic and military strength, the political and social stability that challenge the second largest economy in the world, are increasingly important for the future of its rapid growth and future.
What are the social challenges that the new leadership faces? Among the most significant, are the increasing social unrest among the population, the tremendous inequalities within the country, and the need for further investment in social welfare.
As international trade prospers, and as the “Made in China” label becomes a universal trend, China needs to focus on political and social stability as well as economic development. For China to achieve the desired status of being a “harmonious society”, human rights and labor issues must be addressed. Government agencies as well as companies, facing the enlargement of the Chinese consumer market and economic integration, must confront with these issues focusing on operating according to International Law in a socially responsible manner. Workers are indeed one of the driving forces behind China’s miraculous economic rise. Labor unrest and human rights violations including the detention and violence on trade union and labor activists are still extremely common throughout the country and continue to spark controversies and scandals. Over the past 30 years, the development of capitalism in China in the name of building the so called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, has transformed China from being one of the most egalitarian societies in the 1970s to one of the most unequal in Asia in 1995 and one of the most unequal countries in the world in 2000. Inequalities have grown and worker’s conditions are extremely difficult as migrant workers are «caught in the grip of capitalist’s unscrupulous willingness to sacrifice anything in the pursuit of profit» and to sustain the country’s rapid economic growth.
Party officials stress their desire to focus on transparency and the party’s openness to peaceful protests and critical dissent however, even though China is recognizing the number of problems it faces as an emerging economic power, it is keeps covering up stories and scandals. Examples can be found within the realm of social media, labor and environmental policies. Government officials often hide what they cannot cope with, in hope of maintaining stability within the country, but this has now become unsustainable. The Chinese population has become more aware and is demanding, through peaceful and violent protests, that international norms be respected and promises be kept.
With China’s shift to more market based economic policies, middle class protests have radically increased and have become a worrisome issue for the CCP members. In recent years, Chinese leaders struggled to cope with the biggest upsurge of unemployment the country had faced in years and numerous worldwide scandals – Apple/ Foxconn to name one.
The CNN quotes how the «unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development remains a[nother] big problem». One of Hu Jintao’s pillars of his program has been to increase social spending, strongly believing that wealth would have trickled down to the whole population. But this did not happen. As economic growth continues to flourish, income and development gaps between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural have become more evident. Investments in social welfare have severely increased in the past years but need a further boost to cope with income inequalities, demographic imbalances, an aging population, additional pension schemes for migrant workers and a healthcare system that needs to be improved to encompass the whole population.
The harsh popular assessment on President Hu’s leadership, known as Guofu, minqiong, refers to how the nation has become richer, and the people poorer. Significant is however, that, recognizing the importance of facing this income disparity program, at the beginning of the 18th Party Congress Hu Jintao has addressed the importance of focusing on per capita income, and made an ambitious target for 2020 of doubling income per capita in both urban and rural centers. Will the new leader Xi Jinping follow through?
China’s new leadership knows the country will not be credible and persuasive if it lacks ethical considerations in shaping its domestic as well as international behavior. Protests throughout China demand greater liberties and freedom of speech, as well as more transparency and compliance to promises made and a commitment to solve some of the biggest problems within the country. Economic, political and social challenges must all be equally addressed. It is time for China to take its responsibility and peacefully face the social unrest and the problem of inequalities it has faced for a decade. Or the consequences on the economy and on China’s further development and assertion could deteriorate dramatically.
Hu Jintao also publicly warned leaders of the dangers of the high levels of corruption and emphasized the importance of enforcement within the communist party. Xi’s challenge will be to diplomatically manage the country’s domestic issues with its rise on the world stage. His ability to deliver harmoniously lies ahead.
 Where is China Going?, in «Economic & Political Weekly», 2008.
 Shaoguang Wang, Double movement in China, in «Economic and Political Weekly».
 Eunjung Cha Ariana, In Crisis, China Vows Openness, in «Washington Post Foreign Service», March 5, 2009.