Gandhi for China

Two of the world's largest institutions葉he Roman Catholic Church and China's communist state容lected new leaders last week. What's common to them? Both are facing enormous challenges, which call for urgent reforms. In the wake of the controversies that swirled around the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI, many introspective Catholics would support New York Times columnist Frank Bruni's assessment that they are left "with a faith whose essence warms them, but whose formal administration leaves them cold". Time will tell whether, and how, Pope Francis I will reform the troubled church.

Even if the new pope doesn't, there is no imminent threat to the church. Religious institutions survive longer than political ones. However, for Xi Jinping, who became China's president on Thursday揺is election had become predictable after he took the reins of the communist party (CPC) in November last羊eform is not an option but a dire necessity. China undoubtedly has achieved spectacular progress in many fields, for which the credit must go to both the Chinese people and the communist leadership. But with growing disconnect between the people and the party, the communist rule is now facing challenges that are not just formidable, but even existential. Indeed, the very survival of the CPC's one-party reign depends on how effectively it surmounts the many complex and fast rising problems of development, governance and social stability. China's new leadership has to grapple with widening income gaps; widespread corruption; unbridled consumerism; alarming levels of environmental degradation; a rise in the number of local-level protests by workers, peasants, even journalists; clamour for political reforms and freedoms; and an enlarging moral emptiness in society. For example, a recent study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences showed that the overall level of trust in society has declined to an all-time low.

No Chinese communist leader has been as outspoken as Xi in warning fellow partymen that they should not take the permanence of CPC's rule for granted. "Only if the capabilities of all party members unceasingly continue to strengthen, can the goal of 'Two 100 Years' and 'the dream' of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people be realised," Xi said in a recent speech at the CPC's Central Party School. 'Two 100 Years' refers to two landmark centenaries in the country's modern history100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021 and of the People's Republic of China in 2049. Notably, the CPC centenary arrives one year before Xi completes his second five-year term. Hence, he has made it his personal mission to reform the communist party and also to ensure that it remains a ruling party in the second century of its existence. He must achieve this without social turmoil and violence. Time will tell whether Xi succeeds, but there is little doubt that he has already impressed both his countrymen and China-watchers abroad with his gravitas, candour and conduct, conveying a sense that he is a leader who means business.

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