FAST TRACK: Visitors attend an exhibition showcasing China's achievements in the past decade in Beijing on November 1 (HE JUNCHANG)
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) opened in Beijing on November 8. The first day consisted of the report made by Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, about progress in the last five years and what the direction for the country needs to be in the coming five years during the period in which the congress lasts. Congress work reports are statements of consensus. They contain the key objectives the Party sets for itself, which all members agree to abide by, and which then set the framework within which the government work report delivered by the premier is organized sometime early next year when the National People's Congress is due to meet.
In the report given by Hu at the 17th CPC National Congress in 2007, he stated that the core objective for the Party remained, as it had been for the last three decades since reform and opening up started in 1978, to deliver economic growth. He also talked about the need for sustainable growth, for balance in society, for participation in decision making, and for taking people as the key. His report also stressed the need for intra-Party democracy, for stronger rule of law, and for continuing to build the foundations of a harmonious society in the coming decade as China becomes a middle-income country.
Within a few weeks of Hu making his work report in 2007, the world was engulfed in the worst economic crisis in several decades. Lehmann Brothers bank collapsed globally, setting off a series of events which are still unfolding to this day. This in particular has raised challenges for the CPC and governments around the world. In 2008 and 2009, growth levels dropped, with most developed countries going into recession. China's exports fell, creating a knock-on effect on growth and employment levels.
Despite this, China was still able to deliver 8-percent growth in 2008, and over 10 percent annually from 2009 to 2011. These were within the targets set by the government in the 11th Five-Year Plan, which ran till 2010. The 12th Five-Year Plan, which started in 2011, set targets of around 7 percent for annual growth. This was in recognition that continuing to deliver such high levels of growth as China's per-capita income rose and its economic model changed was no longer sustainable.
In the period from 2002 onward, as Hu has been general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and Wen Jiabao has been premier, China has managed to pass a number of major economic benchmarks. It became the world's largest holder of foreign reserves in 2006, overtaking Japan. It became the largest exporter in 2008, and the second largest importer around the same time. The most dramatic landmark, however, was when it became the world's second largest economy in 2010, overtaking Japan. In the last decade, despite the global economic crisis from 2008, China has quadrupled the size of its economy, and, in the period from 2008 to 2011, added 40 percent to the size of its GDP.
In the last decade, it has become the world's largest consumer of all forms of energy apart from oil, where it still stands second to the United States. It has become a major outward investor, and the second largest attractor of inward investment.
There are also more problematic statistics. Chinese pollution has continued to grow, with the impact of rapid industrialization on the environment growing greater over the decade. Attempts by the government at the national and local level to do something about these serious issues regarding climate change, deforestation and water shortage in order to move toward a green economy are all set out in the 12th Five-Year Plan. But they remain aspirations at the moment, with a continuing challenge to try to balance the need for growth with environmental considerations.