China's increased prominence on the global stage has also brought with it general skepticism and intense scrutiny, especially in the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympics and after the March 2008 protests in Tibet. The government continues to be criticized on human rights abuses and the various product quality scandals that have increasingly damaged the country's integrity and continues to raise suspicions about the country's safety standards. The majority of China's population, however, point to the immense progress the country has made and generally discredit criticisms of China as being enbedded in cultural and historical misunderstandings and rooted in paranoia of China's potential dominance on the world stage. These ideological clashes, fused with rhetoric from Beijing, has led to an intense wave of nationalism surfacing in Chinese populations around the world.
Also elevated during the Congress was Wen Jiabao, then Premier Zhu Rongji's right-hand man. Wen would become Premier in March 2003, and along with Hu, they were termed the Hu-Wen Administration. Both Hu and Wen's careers are remarkable in that they survived through the 1989 political crisis, which was attributed to their moderate views and careful attention not to offend or alienate older supporters. Hu Jintao is the first party chief to have joined the Communist Party after the Revolution over 50 years ago. In his 50s, Hu was the youngest member by far of the then seven-member Standing Committee. Wen Jiabao, a geology engineer who spent most of career in China's hinterlands, had never lost his political ground despite being a former ally to disgraced leader Zhao Ziyang.
The degree of difference between the Hu and Jiang administrations is subject to debate. Within the top leadership of the PRC, there still a general consensus that Chinese economic reform should continue. But because of the clear slant towards more capitalist elements under a one-party system, it has been contested that the government has an unclear ideological direction. The seriousness of China's internal problems is often masked by its high economic growth indicators and rapidly increasing foreign investment interest. Both Hu and Wen have given keynote addresses indicating the government's determination to deal with problems in a more logical, scientific way.
The introduction of the Internet and SMS has increased the difficulty of attaining complete control, although general internet censorship involving sites such as Google and Wikipedia persist. Moreover, the news media from Hong Kong, protected by Basic Law, has become increasingly involved in news reporting in China, and have become increasingly accessible to a Mainland public hungry for "real news".
There are cases in which lawyers were harassed, journalists beaten, and civilians imprisoned in weiquan movement. What makes weiquan movement more difficult is that in China there exists a system called "Reeducation through labor" (Pinyin:láodòng jiàoyăng or láojiào in short) (Chinese characters:劳动教养 or 劳教 in short). It is a system in which a person can be detained for up to 4 years without being convicted by a court. This system is also used to deal with some weiquan movement activists.
In spite of the difficulties, weiquan movement still made some progress, such as the abolition of "Custody and repatriation" in 2003. However, the pace of the progress is still very slow.
A series of demonstrations and riots beginning on March 10, 2008 marked the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. After a period of relatively peaceful time since the demonstrations in 1989, the 2008 Tibetan unrest again showed the underlying tension in Tibet and the adjacent areas. The Chinese government and the Tibetan Government in Exile have been in contact since 1978, not long after the end of the Cultural Revolution, and have held several secret or formal talks since 1982. However, the talks were not very fruitful, and there is still no sign for the Tibetan issue to be resolved in the near future.
In November 2002, the SARS epidemic began in Guangdong. To stop panic and avoid possible economic damage, and to preserve face and public confidence, local officials applied tight media control. The central Government was knowingly ignorant of the media control. The international community was misinformed about the existence of the virus.
Policy changes became apparent in early April 2003. After intense international pressure, PRC officials allowed international officials to investigate the situation. In late April, major revelations came to light as the PRC government admitted to underreporting the number of cases due to the problems inherent in the health care system. A number of PRC officials were fired from their posts, including the health minister Zhang Wenkang and the mayor of Beijing Meng Xuenong (a Jiang and Hu supporter, respectively), and systems were set up to improve reporting and control in the SARS crisis. The PRC government delivered an official apology. Chinese President Hu Jintao promised a total disclosure of SARS data and permitted WHO experts to examine the SARS cases. Finally, in July 2003, the WHO declared SARS contained, but warned the disease could emerge again during the next winter. By then the disease had already made its way around the world.
The crisis marked a period of national mobilization, where schedules around the country shifted to accommodate for the control of the virus. Many educational institutions closed or had highly regulated schedules during the period between April and November 2003, and businesses were open on a very irregular basis. Restaurants, usually the centre of social life in China, were nearing bankruptcy. Quarantine measures were taken across the country, with designated hospitals in major cities treating the illness. The extreme measures left paranoid citizens with common illnesses to treat themselves at home to avoid contracting the virus at a hospital. Many overcrowded schools divided their classes into morning and afternoon groups to avoid contact due to the close proximity of desks. Workplaces took to handing out mandatory latex gloves and face masks, whose production and sales rose dramatically during this period.
The openness in the latter stage of the SARS crisis showed an unprecedented shift in the Chinese government's policies. In the past, rarely had officials stepped down purely because of administrative mistakes. There was never complete disclosure of classified data and no project in China had been under such international inspection. This change in policy has been largely credited to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. At the heart of the crisis, Hu made a high-profile trip to Guangdong and Wen ate lunch with students at Beijing University.
Just as China was emerging out of the SARS crisis, it became one of the most accessible breeding spots of the avian flu outbreak. While four other Southeastern Asian countries have reported cases of Avian Flu before China, the Chinese government began taking percautions not long after the SARS outbreak in 2003. Beijing has maintained a strict and transparent policy to gain back a reputation damaged heavily during the SARS outbreak. In October 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao issued a nationwide directive to heavily prosecute the officials who attempted to hide Avian Flu cases. Since then, a total of 13 cases of Avian Flu in humans have been reported on the Mainland. Since then China has not faced a significant public health crisis.
Increased standards of living saw the expansion of the middle class, but also meant that the upper strata of society controlled more and more wealth. According to numerous reports from within China and internationally, China now ranks amongst the countries in the world with the largest wealth gap in the world. The creation of a new business elite and their entrance into the party ranks meant that the line between business and politics has been blurred, giving way to more corruption. Numerous regional leaders were fired from their posts and sent to jail on charges of corruption. Most notably, Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu was dismissed in September 2006 due to a scandal involving moving money from the city's pension fund and opposing macroeconomic control measures issued by the central government.
Regional imbalance, notably the wealth disparity between the hinterlands and the rich coastal regions, have also become a concern for China's rulers. To lessen the effects of the imbalance the government launched the Develop the Northwest and Revitalize the Northeast campaigns, while enacting tight macroeconomic controls in a process of equalization.
China's urban and rural primary health care network has persisted in prophylactic health work. China had basically eliminated snail fever by the end of the 1950s; filarial infection by 1994; and poliomyelitis by 1995. It plans to wipe out leprosy, and iodine deficiency in the upcoming years. Despite the huge increases in life spans, China's population growth has been stabilizing due to lowering birth rates since enacting the one or two-child policies in the late 1970s. Population growth exploded under Mao's rule, failing to enact population controls, due to stability, improving nutritional intakes, and increasing life expectancy (so-called "barefoot doctors" used to establish clinics even in the remotest regions of the countryside, bringing free access to vaccination, preventative medicines, birth control and promoting better standards of sanitation). Thus, China has largely resolved the problems of over-population and malnourishment. As a result, China's prospects for maintaining stability are relatively good, enabling one to project that continued growth is likely.
Opinion polls continually show that corruption (in all sectors of society) is the main complaint of the people. Currently, hospitals, schools, police, and social and legal institutions are constantly affected by bribery, cronyism, and nepotism. However, the Communist Party of China still asserts a monopoly on exposing corrupt officials and businessmen, and critics accuse the party of selective punishment. Analysts say the authorities are reluctant to pursue senior figures and their allies and punishment comes in the form of political purges rather than genuine law enforcement. Nonetheless, the government has taken some measures to address the situation, strengthening the legal system and trying to make the civil service more professional.
Western analysts note that the SCO may serve as a balance against US and NATO advancement in the region. Some have even called it a new Warsaw Pact. SCO leaders, however, insist that the organization is not an alliance directed against any other states.
Having become economically stronger, China is emulating Taiwan's "money diplomacy", and persuading those countries to cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to sway to China's side.
Promising financial help, buying over high government officials, and even getting involved in election campaigns in those countries have become part of their "money diplomacy". Such policies also brought negative influences to those countries such as corruption and sometimes can even cause the political instability. One example is the riot in 2006 following the general election in the Solomon Islands. As a consequence of the riot, the then-newly elected prime minister, Snyder Rini, resigned after having served for a very short term.
Another potential crisis is the advent of AIDS, which by UN estimates, could reach 10 million cases in 2010. In the Henan province, where perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have been infected with HIV by selling their blood, the government is only beginning to pay attention to the problem. Public awareness and widespread acknowledgement has yet to come.
While there have been major economic reforms, the government has been slow on political reform, citing that social stability is vital for a developing economy. Few analysts believe the PRC will democratize quickly, but many see democratization as an inevitable end of the economic reforms. Many in mainland China see one-party rule as effective and any talk of political reform is meant to change the way the party governs, rather than remove it from power. In recent years, local elections with more candidates than positions available have become regular, yet talking about major changes at higher levels remains taboo.
Although the amount of "inner-party democracy" has increased, the transparency of China's ruling elite is murky at best. Constitutional measures places certain restrictions on government posts, such as the two-term limit for President and Premier. These restrictions will force Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to retire. The corresponding party posts, however, are often not governed by strict rules. The mandatory retirement age is 68. As a result, Hu Jintao faces a significant challenge in choosing a successor because he does not have as much power or influence as former leaders Mao, Deng, or even Jiang. China's history knows little of smooth power transitions when there is no designated successor. Therefore it may prove difficult to keep a steadfast policy focus while the central leadership is caught up by a leadership succession crisis.
The Olympics took place in Beijing in August 2008. Expo 2010 is scheduled to take place in Shanghai. To investors and firms, mainland China represents a vast market that has yet to be fully tapped. This point is best illustrated by the rapid growth of cell phone and Internet users in mainland China. Educationally, the PRC is forging ahead as partnerships and exchanges with foreign universities have helped create new research opportunities for its students. Human rights issues remain a concern among members of the world community and Chinese activists. Relations with these concerned countries will change in relation to how well the PRC government can "satisfactorily" deal with these problems.