Skip to main content

China: Three challenges for new leaders

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
March 5, 2013 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN asked experts to explain biggest challenges facing China
  • Experts: Economic disparity, gender imbalance, water and food security are big issues
  • Delegates are meeting for National People's Congress in Beijing
  • Xi Jinping to formally become Chinese president at end of congress

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Four months after hushed deal-broking produced a new leadership lineup for China, Xi Jinping is to set to formally take charge of the country he'll rule for the next 10 years.

Xi, along with new premier Li Keqiang, has inherited a supercharged economy that's created vast riches for some, a growing middle class, and many poorer migrant workers who are becoming increasingly frustrated with their lot in life.

But the deepening wealth divide isn't the only challenge facing the country's population of 1.3 billion people.

In November, as China was convening its 18th National Communist Party Congress, CNN asked a number of China experts to define what they believe to be the country's most pressing challenges. We revisit their thoughts four months on, as delegates attend the 12th National People's Congress in Beijing.

Wen opens China's People's Congress with call to unite

1. Closing the wealth gap

In February, the Chinese government announced plan to raise spending on social welfare by two percentage points within the next five years.

Economist Li Gan says that's nowhere near enough to narrow the wealth gap and argues that the country needs to work on a "much larger scale."

"If the government creates a stronger social safety net for its citizens, Chinese workers will feel less pressure to save for health emergencies, unemployment and retirement, and more likely to buy goods and services -- and create a mature consumer-driven economy," he says.

Gan explains his views here.

2. Too many men

Faced with a surging population, China attempted to put the brakes on procreation in the late 1970s by implementing a controversial policy limiting couples in some areas to just one child.

Since then, a cultural bias towards male children has led to a skewed child sex ratio where millions of men, or "bare branches" face an uncertain future due to the lack of potential female partners, writes evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks.

"It would be difficult to overstate the urgent need for China to emulate South Korea in eliminating sex-biased abortion and neglect," Brooks writes.

Studies show, he says, what can happen if it doesn't.

Elmore Leonard has written 45 books, and some have been turned into movies or TV shows.

3. Securing China's food, water and air

The legacy of China's powerhouse of cheap, labor-intensive exports is a natural environment tainted by the pollutants of economic growth.

Author Geoff Hiscock says securing the food, water and air security of China's 1.35 billion people is one of the leadership's biggest challenges.

"Beijing and other parts of northeastern China are already water-stressed, the air quality in inland mega-cities such as Chongqing and Chengdu is abysmal, farming land is being poisoned by toxic runoff from mining and industrial activities, acid rain blights large parts of south China, contagious disease is an ever-present risk among its livestock, and unscrupulous makers sell tainted foodstuffs," Hiscock writes.

So what can China do about it? More from Hiscock.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

CNN's Paul Armstrong and Kevin Voigt contributed to this story.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane, forcing the Nanjing-bound plane to turn back to Bangkok.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Like Beijing today, Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite an anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour Taipei bookstore is a hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT