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Hu leaves behind a mighty yet anxious China
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 6, 2012

China's decade under Hu Jintao
Beijing (AFP) Nov 6, 2012 - China's decade under Hu Jintao has seen record economic growth, greater openness driven by Internet and social media use, yet also an unbending political system. Among notable events are:

November 2002: The ruling Communist Party names Hu as its leader, or general secretary, at its 16th party congress, which is held every five years.

March 2003: Hu also assumes the role of head of state at the annual gathering of the National People's Congress, or parliament, while Wen Jiabao becomes premier.

October 2003: China becomes the third country to send a man into space, after the Soviet Union and United States.

December 2004: IBM sells its personal computer division to Chinese computer maker Lenovo.

July 2006: A new railway -- the world's highest -- opens connecting Tibet with the rest of China.

January 2007: China fires its first anti-satellite missile in what Western nations interpret as an aggressive move.

October 2007: China launches its first lunar probe, Chang'e, inaugurating an ambitious space programme aimed at sending an astronaut to the moon.

March 2008: Riots erupt in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and nearby Tibetan regions, leaving 20 dead according to officials and 203 dead according to Tibetans in exile.

March 2008: Xi Jinping is named vice president.

May 2008: A massive earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province kills 87,000 people.

August 2008: Beijing hosts the Olympic Games, where Chinese athletes win the most gold medals.

September 2008: A food scandal -- in which milk is laced with the chemical melamine -- kills six babies and sickens 300,000 others.

November 2008: Authorities unleash a stimulus package worth four trillion yuan (about $640 million today) to counter the global financial crisis.

November 2008: First commercial airliner made in China, the ARJ-21, starts flights.

July 2009: Clashes between ethnic Uighurs and majority Han in the northwestern city of Urumqi leave 200 dead and 1,600 wounded, prompting China to block Facebook and Twitter.

December 2009: China overtakes Germany as the world's top exporter.

May 2010: The World Expo in Shanghai draws 73 million visitors over several months.

October 2010: Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo wins the Nobel peace prize while he is serving an 11-year prison sentence for calling for the end of the Communist party's ruling monopoly.

December 2010: China surpasses Japan to become the world's second largest economy.

Early 2011: Fearing a spillover effect from the "Arab Spring" popular revolts in the Middle East, authorities crack down on dissidents including well-known artist Ai Weiwei, who is detained for three months.

June 2011: A high-speed train running the 1,300 kilometres (810 miles) from Beijing to Shanghai opens.

Late 2011: City-dwellers outnumber the rural population for the first time, while the number of Internet users tops 500 million in September.

April 2012: Senior leader Bo Xilai is brought down following revelations about the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

April 2012: The blind activist Chen Guangcheng escapes house arrest and takes refuge in the American embassy in Beijing before leaving for the United States.

July 2012: The massive Three Gorges dam reaches full capacity, matching the output of 15 nuclear reactors, or 22.5 gigawatts.

November 2012: The 18th Party Congress opens, where Hu is expected to step down as leader, to be replaced by Xi.

Hu Jintao presided over a momentous decade in which China cemented its re-emergence as a global power, became the world's second-largest economy, and dazzled the world with a glittering Olympic Games.

But the outgoing Communist chief leaves his successor Xi Jinping -- set to be appointed party leader at a congress starting this week -- facing an array of problems stemming from China's economic and social shifts, and hidebound politics.

When Hu, 69, came to power a decade ago, he was a largely blank slate, leading some to hope that he could be a reformer who might help inch China toward some form of modest liberalisation.

But today the Communist Party's stranglehold is tighter than ever.

Corruption festers at all levels of business and politics, and while the economic miracle that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty continues, growth is slowing and inequality and pollution are worsening.

Hu made more sustainable and inclusive development his mantra.

"The past 10 years I would say were two-sided: on the one hand there were great achievements, but on the other hand there were many problems," said Pu Xingzu, a politics professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.

"Solutions for these problems must be found... or they will get more complicated, more difficult and more serious," he said, adding that China needed "bold, risk-taking" leaders to confront them.

A product of the conservative Communist Youth League, Hu has been anything but an agent of change -- a wooden figure with the look of a bank manager and a cautious approach.

Trained as an engineer, he spent much of his career in poor interior regions that largely missed out on the growth enjoyed by vibrant coastal manufacturing areas after late leader Deng Xiaoping launched economic reforms 30 years ago.

But an endorsement by Deng sent Hu on a path to the top of the Communist Party leadership and the national presidency.

He came to power at a time when the side effects of years of growth-at-all-costs policies were becoming acute, with economic reforms having tossed tens of millions of workers from jobs in state-owned firms.

Rampant growth had made China one of the world's most polluted countries and those dispossessed by rapid change were mounting tens of thousands of protests each year.

To address such ills, Hu called for smarter, more balanced growth -- he called it "scientific development" -- to provide support for the rural poor, reform some social services, and stage pollution crackdowns.

But despite his best efforts rural inequality is near "danger" levels, according to a report in August by a state-linked think-tank, and some voices within the party have warned the underlying problems are worsening.

Hu's successors come to power at a time of growing pressure for reform of a growth model that relies heavily on exports and investment.

Economists say this puts China increasingly at the mercy of foreign economies -- overseas financial troubles have slowed growth this year -- and advise a more balanced economy with domestic consumption playing a greater role.

But observers say the party leadership's cautious, consensus-driven approach has militated against bold action.

"They (the leadership under Hu) weren't cosmopolitan, market-oriented reformers with a vision of how things needed to change radically. They were administrators from the interior," said William Overholt, a research fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Another blot on Hu's record is the perceived failure of his calls for a "harmonious society" -- a unified China pulling together -- a slogan tarnished by the persistent social turmoil and violent unrest among various ethnic minorities in recent years.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, said the government deserves credit for maintaining steady growth amid external shocks, adding "a clear majority of Chinese have got better off".

But he added: "They didn't achieve very much in terms of what they said they would set out to do.


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