If 2001 is to be considered as the year of the entry of the PRC into the WTO, the two-year period 2002-03 must be remembered above all for the political turnover in the center and in the provinces, with the rise of the ‘fourth generation’ of leadership. The sanction of the political and generational turnover was formalized by the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in November 2002, and completed between the spring of 2003and the following year with the election of the highest offices of the state. In doing so, much of the leadership that had led the country after Deng Xiaoping’s disappearance left their posts. The new generation in power – who from that moment guided China along the tortuous paths of ‘market socialism’ and which is called to successfully carry out the reform process in the years leading up to the important challenge of the Olympics (2008) – is centered on the binomial Hu Jintao (head of the party) and Wen Jiabao (head of the government). The growing weight of the governors of the most important provinces and municipalities is evident within the leadership team that supports Hu Jintao.
According to Aparentingblog, the new management faced major problems in the years 2003-2005, whose solution seemed ever more urgent: extraordinary economic growth, however crossed by significant contradictions (territorial distribution, sectoral diversity, ecological imbalances); a new and rapidly changing society, marked by phenomena such as consumerism, the emergence of private entrepreneurship, ideological disenchantment, the information and communication revolution; the deepening of the policy of international cooperation, which however involved the introduction into the country of ‘corrosive’ Western values. In reality,, which highlighted the limited progress made in the field of administrative transparency and information. In fact, only in June, three months after the first signs, did the authorities decide to intervene, among other things with the creation of a task force with the aim of implementing a plan for the prevention and control of the epidemic. Different testimonies coincided in underlining that the epidemic, beyond the serious loss of human lives (over 600 deaths in China and Hong Kong) and the serious economic damage (several million dollars), had highlighted in particular the impressive shortcomings and distortions of the Chinese health system.
After the SARS crisis, China experienced an overall positive phase in 2004 and 2005. The new management began to implement the new development strategy, aimed at finding a more profitable balance between economic growth and social and environmental compatibility. The priorities of government action were identified in the reaffirmation of the centrality of agriculture, in the development of a social security system, in the mitigation of inter-provincial disparities and between city and countryside, in the resolution of serious inadequacies in educational and health services, in the more determined fight against corruption. In the spring of 2004 among other things, the National People’s Assembly approved some significant changes to the Constitution, in particular by providing, on the one hand, new rules for the legal protection of private property, and on the other hand more precise and precise references to the duty of the State to guarantee a system of adequate social security and to safeguard human rights. However, while on the first issue the progress made during 2004-05 was very evident, on the contrary the new legislation on human rights did not prevent the adoption of new restrictive and censorship measures against the media and the world of journalism.
On the international level, the pragmatism policy initiated in previous years was reaffirmed, seeking to strengthen diplomatic action in geographical areas considered key above all for the purposes of national strategic and security interests (Central Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America). For this purpose the theory of ‘peaceful ascent’ was coined, precisely with the aim of highlighting how the growth and strengthening of China did not aim in any way to produce destabilizing effects on the regional and international framework. The Chinese effort to offer the whole world a calming image was intertwined, however, in 2005, with the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Bandung Conference, a historic symbol of the struggle to create a new and better ‘world order’. Despite this, in 2004 and in the first months of 2005 the Chinese management had to face serious problems of a different nature. Relations with the United States underwent a decisive cooling down, fueled by growing tensions with Taiwan, by the friction on the problem of democratic elections in Hong Kong and by the dispute over the import quotas of Chinese products, which also involved – as has already been pointed out – the European Union, and in particular Italy and other countries of the Mediterranean area. Renewal of the Bush mandate in November 2004 it was greeted with concern, but also with the confident hope that the next four years could lead to a greater commitment by Washington to counter the independence tendencies of Taiwan and a gradual abandonment of political and military unilateralism. The other ‘hot front’ was represented by relations with Japan, whose marked deterioration began in January 2004, with a new visit by Japanese Prime Minister J. Koizumi (the fourth since 2001) to the Yasukuni temple (burial place of officers convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the Second World War, in particular in China), and was accentuated during the first part of 2005, also following a new wave of Japanese school textbook publications containing serious distortions of the history of the Sino-Japanese conflict of 1937-1945;in April there were demonstrations and violence against Japanese people and interests. Beyond the question of historical memory, the crisis in Sino-Japanese relations had worsened in previous years following other events, in particular the escalation of the dispute over the Tiaoyu Islands (in Japanese, Senkaku) and oil exploration in the Sea South China, the sending of Japanese military contingents to ̔Irāq (a sign, according to China, of ambition for rearmament), the problem of Japan’s entry into the UN Security Council, opposed with great determination by Beijing. However, the sharp deterioration in political relations between the two countries did not affect the good performance of bilateral economic and commercial relations, which grew significantly.