BEIJING | 3rd Nov 2012
A painter works on a portrait for Chinese artist and film-maker Zhang Bingjian's "Hall of Fame" project showing corrupt officials, in Shenzhen. REUTERS
eijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other Chinese metropolises are awash in Rolls Royce and Ferrari cars. Apple stores are thronged for latest-model iPhones, and for other 21st century toys. In five-star hotel lobbies, women amble in with $5,000 handbags, $55,000 watches and $3,000 shoes. The deposit for a better Chinese-language primary school in Beijing is $2000, and half that as monthly fees. A two-bedroom flat in many neighbourhoods goes for $600,000 in the national capital or in Shanghai, a city where the number of empty flats multiplies by the day. Till the 2008 financial crisis, it was western expats who occupied the premium apartments. These days, they settle for more modest lodgings, leaving the expensive addresses to locals. Judging by the way money gets spent on expensive European labels, it would be impossible to know that many areas in China are facing an economic crisis because of falling demand in Europe.
Clearly, several functionaries of the Chinese Communist Party are as good in financial management as their counterparts in India, in that they parley modest salaries into millions in cash and assets, a lot of it sent to safe havens in North America and Europe, where Chinese buyers have actually pushed up high-end property prices in Paris and London despite the overall slump. Many send their children to English-speaking western countries even at the high school or undergraduate stage. Each year, the number of those acquiring foreign passports is believed to be rising exponentially, although actual figures are hard to come by. So there is visible nervousness among corrupt officials that they could be the next high-profile prisoner after Bo Xilai, and they are escaping abroad in large numbers.
China is still growing at a rate close to double digits, and the Communist Party's hold over power remains strong. However, the prevalence of corruption within the party has combined with the high cost of quality health, housing and education to create a mood of sullenness within the population. The fear within the super rich is that swelling discontent at the glaring gap between the wealthy and the remaining 99% of the population will lead to "uncontrollable unrest", in the words of a party functionary. Add to that tensions with Japan. The Shanghai Marathon was postponed by a month (to the inhospitable month of December) because the city authorities refused to allow events sponsored by Japanese companies (hitherto the major sponsors of the annual event).
Faced with declining demand in Europe, a possible fiscal meltdown in the United States and public anger at the high living of several Communist Party cadres make the task of the incoming General Secretary of the CPC, Xi Jinping, a difficult one. Managing the economy will be incoming Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The 2,270-member National Congress of the CPC begins its 18th session on the auspicious date of 8 November, to choose the new Central Committee and through this body, the Politburo and the Standing Committee. While numerous names are being bandied about in foreign media, the truth is nobody outside the top leadership knows just who the seven men will be who will lead China till 2022. The departure of thousands of corrupt officials for foreign shores will presumably make easier their task of making China cleaner.
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