China Watch: Party Confab Aside, Expect More of the Same
As the party got rolling, I came to Hong Kong, the world's center for fast visas to mainland China. I was rejected twice in one day for a tourist visa because my aging U.S. passport reveals that I was once a journalist stationed in Beijing.
It used to be that a China ex-scribe (read ex-con) could get a China tourist visa in Hong Kong just with a letter promising not to gather news up north. My journalist friends in Asia say my timing couldn't have been less timely.
That foreign journalists can't even get close to the Party's party may be the biggest change since the same group of leaders met in 2007.
Looking at the other announcements made at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, it's hard to get too excited for your portfolio. Just feel assured that positions taken to date on China don't need too much adjustment.
In particular, I was watching for a policy announcement on Chinese yuan exchange rates. That would have helped exports from China but hurt large, listed American companies that ship to China and to stores in the United States. But no new policy.
Studying the announcements one by one, as reported by China's uber-official Xinhua News Agency (and rebroadcast on TV for a stoic Hong Kong), we the Party shalt:
1. Increase the income of urban and rural residents, improve the social security system, further narrow urban-rural and regional disparities and address unfairness in income distribution.
How about parking a Chinese citizen on Jupiter, too? Yet as heavenly as this edict sounds, it covers no new territory.
The government has talked for a decade about closing a vast, stubborn urban-rural income divide and offering a safety net for those still at the butt end of it. The unfairness issue still looms large as migrant workers living on a few bucks a day in Shanghai nearly get run down by fellow countrymen in Audis headed home to their multi-million-yuan townhouses.
If the migrants grow too resentful, they riot and the Party looks stupid until enough cops show up and send everyone home to their shacks.
Chinese government efforts, plus many more individual ones, have reduced poverty from 94.22 million people to 26.88 million in the decade ending in 2010, according to an impossibly rosy Xinhua statistic. Still, the trend is qualitatively correct and will go on, meaning people in the countryside live eight instead of 18 people to an outhouse while the urban dude can still upgrade his Audi. Some impact on consumption (see item No. 2 below).