Big Changes Are Coming to China
First of all, the power transition in Beijing has been the dominant concern and risk for several months, highlighted by the drama surrounding Bo Xilai but supplemented by the very real jostling around the issues of real estate price control, relative support for state-owned enterprises vs. private sector, and a myriad of sociopolitical issues.
As the 18th Party Congress draws to an uneventful end, this risk has disappeared. Furthermore, it's very encouraging for China watchers to see numerous signs of potentially significant changes. "Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought" has been dropped from the Party Constitution. (I know, but trust me it's still a huge deal even though no one in power has anything to do with it since the '90s at the latest.)
Official media are talking about limiting "interest groups," a code-word for the existing state-enterprise establishment, in very public and stern tones. There are even some subtle signs pointing to potential revisiting of the 1989 democracy movement.
Nobody is expecting an overnight revolution. But it does look likely that the Beijing leadership collective has come to the realization that some profound changes must be made urgently in order to maintain power and sustain economic growth and social stability.
Economically, in my opinion and shared by the think-tank for economic planning according to a recent report, the top-most issue is reform of the SOEs. Allow me to provide a brief background here.
The economic reform in China started in the early '80s, when virtually the entire economy was controlled by the central government. Despite the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 6, 1989, reform in China continued to push forward (mostly economic but also in most other areas), contrary to the popular misconception in the West.
The '90s marked the single biggest change in Chinese economic landscape since the beginning of time: for the first time the state-owned sector in Chinese economy was forcefully shrunk by the government.
This historic, tremendously significant transformation was, sadly, reversed when the Hu-Wen government took over in 2002. The few surviving SOEs, though nominally "publically traded," quickly formed an untouchable alliance with the government and banks (mostly state-owned and publicly traded themselves) and dominated the landscape.
They are, of course, notoriously inefficient in every way except regulatory arbitrage and pluropoly. But they are the original too-big-to-fail. They have practically unlimited sources of cheap financing and monopoly-like pricing power. Life cannot be easier and more glorious than theirs anywhere or anytime on this planet.