At first glance, it is an oddly bland moniker for an exchange that has been carried out with the partisan fervor that only a one-party state can muster. Who dares say they are against "reform"? But it is an apt title in a local context, because of how the word "reform" reverberates in China.
Well before Mikhail Gorbachev had glasnost and perestroika, Deng Xiaoping had "reform and opening", the lethal two-headed policy pronouncement that transformed the world's most populous country in a single generation.
That makes the battle for the mantle of "reform" one waged in deadly earnest. China being China, or at least China being Communist, so to speak, the debate has been raging behind the scenes.
But thanks largely to the wonders of the Internet age, material has made its way into the public domain. The most notorious was the full transcript of the so-called "west hill" meeting of the "reform elite" organized by a retired planning commission official, Gao Shangquan.
A couple of young students took notes of the meeting and apparently were so excited at the contents that they circulated them to all right-thinking people. Some on that particular list, however, turned out to be more left than right, and posted the transcript online to embarrass the group.
"Reform" has a simple meaning in China. It signifies a greater role for the market and the private sector, and a diminished role for the state, and perhaps, by implication, the ruling party.
But the basis of the anti-reform movement is more complex and riddled with hidden agendas.
Just look at the fallout in the mergers and acquisitions area from the debate, especially in transactions involving foreigners. A whole slew of deals, covering everything from meat packing to earth moving equipment, have been held up or stymied altogether. Opponents of such deals have usually been local officials occupying executive sinecures in the companies, or local enterprises fearing greater competition.
None of these sectors would have once been considered strategic in the usual sense of the word. But with leftists complaining about the loss of national patrimony to rapacious foreign capitalists, it has been easy for such officials to wrap their arguments in the flag of nationalism and see the round-eyes off the reservation.
China is also entering what the Americans like to call "the political season".
In just over a year, the Communist Party will hold its once-every-five-years summit, a make-or-break time for Hu Jintao to mould the top leadership inner-circle along lines that suit him and not his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.
Chinese politicians are like those of any other country in this respect – with careers potentially on the line, no one wants to stick his head above the parapet lest it get shot off. So caution is the byword for all ambitious leaders.
That's why the late August announcement on China's new property law was so encouraging. The law, which would have put private property firmly on the same footing as state ownership, was blocked at the National People's Congress after criticism from a Peking University professor.
He took a clever leftist argument that dovetailed perfectly with the prevailing zeitgeist about the growing wealth gap in China, by saying, with no evidence, that the new law would favour the rich.
If the law worked properly, the opposite would be the case. The lack of a property law has allowed governments and their cronies to take land away from people on the cheap and then sell it onto an inflated market at full price.
The new law could scarcely make things worse and in theory should make them a whole lot better.
The approval of the property law is the reform group's first clear-cut victory in a year. Whether it amounts to a genuine turning point, especially with the party congress on the horizon, is yet to be seen.
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