Is China Ready for Truly Transformational Leadership

Thursday, July 26, 2012 10:04
Posted in category The Big Picture
Comments Off on Is China Ready for Truly Transformational Leadership

So, with the October handover on final approach, and the movement of officials underway, a lot of time is being spend on the what if, what is going to happen, and what to make of it.  A couple of days ago, I linked to the Aspen Ideas clip of Minxin Pei and Eric Li debating, and if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you grab a coffee and watch it after reading the rest of this post.

Through this post though I though I would address a very practical question that I feel is often overlooked in the average “will China change” discussion  Which is even if China wanted to change, could it?  That, following the logic of those who believe China has no choice but to transform the way decisions are made, and the economy is manage, are the systems, processes, and capacity in place that could take China to a completely different place than it is used to.

For me, this is the question that I find most interesting because what is clear to me (through my discussions with key and keyed in people) is that there a growing pressure to make changes that are material in nature, but there is a collective head scratching going on at the drawing board.  Be it vested interests, or an insurmountable need to train tens of thousands of cadres in a new theory/ practice/ regulation.. the steps of transforming the system, incrementally or at a level considered disruption, need to be considered.

Because, a lot is riding on the success of any transformation.  Be it incremental or disruptive.  as the article As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks clearly highlights:

The private gatherings are a telling indicator of how even some in the elite are worried about the course the Communist Party is charting for China’s future. And to advocates of political change, they offer hope that influential party members support the idea that tomorrow’s China should give citizens more power to choose their leaders and seek redress for grievances, two longtime complaints about the current system.

[…] But the problem is that even as the tiny band of political reformers is attracting more influential adherents, it is splintered into factions that cannot agree on what “reform” would be, much less how to achieve it. The fundamental shifts that are crucial to their demands — a legal system beyond Communist Party control as well as elections with real rules and real choices among candidates — are seen even among the most radical as distant dreams, at best part of a second phase of reform

As does Suddenly, It’s the Society, Stupid

Over the weekend, senior members of the Hu leadership praised the work of “officials handling letters and visits” — that is, those charged with managing the now-largely-reformed network of local petition offices tasked with handling the grievances of regular people — at a major conference here in the capital. Cadres have been encouraged to “listen closely to the masses” for some time now, but they were urged at this meeting to “take the initiative to address social contradictions, and give full play to the petition work in building the basic role of a harmonious socialist society.”

The assumption is that, by encouraging “letters and visits” from the masses and “investigating and resolving disputes,” more widespread anger — say, resulting from an economy that secures the wealth of the powerful instead of redistributing it — could be addressed and instability prevented. “Mediation mechanisms” to prevent outbreaks of discontent — not massive force to threaten dissenters from the outset — are to be the new national norm for officials and security officers. Talking, not truncheon-swinging, is to be the new tomorrow.

So, how will the transformation occur?  to kick that question off I will defer to Peter Senge who says in his book The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, the new mind map that today’s transformational leaders must embrace has three core elements:

  1. Systems Thinking:
  2. Collaboration Across Boundaries:
  3. Adaptivity Through Creating and Adjusting:

It is no wonder Beijing is stuck, and all kidding aside, I hope you (the reader) will understand just how difficult this process would be for China.  Which is where I fear, and yes I mean fear, harder times are coming for China in some very key areas.

That, while there is no shortage of intelligent people who are involved in this process, China’s economic, environmental, and social systems are already in constant crisis mode and to have any expectation that these systems could maintain their integrity with a 180 degree turn is a bit too much.

Particularly when you look at what it will take to need to privatize the economy, create systems that enforce leadership accountability, stop the massive amount of toxic emissions that are destroying China’s environment and sickening its people, and building a social safety net  for its changing demographics (migrant and elderly).  It is a huge task, and without getting into the details of HOW China would transform, I think it is a bit premature to spend much more time on whether or  not they will.


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