2. Liberalize the Press
While Chinese leaders clearly see one advantage in the rise of social media -- as a means of understanding which issues are most profoundly angering people -- they still deploy extraordinary resources and anachronistic censorship policies to stifle the media. Xi and other fifth generation leaders should realize that they need a free press to govern effectively: Not only would this make the government more accountable to the people, it also ensures that lower-level government officials and agencies are accountable to the leadership and vice-versa.
The Chinese constitution already provides lip service to freedom of expression, but the rise of the Internet has made censoring and controlling media content an endless and ultimately losing battle. Yes, a free press will mean embarrassing scandals and criticism of the government, but this is already happening. The benefits to the government of good information from China's many excellent journalists and the opportunity to explain government initiatives devoid of propaganda could temper the discomfiture of exposure.
3. Eliminate the Hukou System
One of the biggest challenges to political stability in China is internal migration, as 220 million workers who move between the countryside and the city are increasingly vocal about the discrimination they endure. The workers who toil in China's factories face state discrimination through the outdated hukou, or household registration, system. This set of rules and policies ties people's access to public benefits such as schools and state health care to their place of birth, meaning that migrant workers registered in the countryside but living in the cities don't have access to the same quality of schools, hospitals, or housing as their urban counterparts; some have no access to these services at all. By 2011, nearly one-fifth of the country had effectively become second-class citizens.
The central government has argued that it is not financially possible to accommodate workers and their families to the coastal areas where most migrate (China, remember, is the second largest economy in the world). And by 2012 Chinese economists began to link the vexing failure to increase domestic consumption to the uncertain tenure of migrant workers -- in other words, giving people unambiguous access to public services and secure tenure in cities would prompt them to save less and spend more. Abolishing the hukou system, as many party officials and academics have long suggested, would acknowledge a reality of modern China: People no longer spend their whole lives in the same place. Equally important, it would abolish one official form of discrimination and ensure all people access to public benefits regardless of where they were born.
4. Revisit the Tiananmen Massacre
Xi could demonstrate a certain political maturity by addressing one of the most sensitive issues of China's recent past. The massacre of unarmed civilians and pro-democracy protestors on June 4, 1989, remains an unhealed wound, implicating past and current leaders and leaving some victims and their family members to face ongoing persecution. What happened in Tiananmen Square remains systematically expunged from the history books. But we know from history that a failure to address past abuses compromises citizen confidence in the state and its ability to function in an accountable manner. In a February 2012 open letter to China's legislature the National People's Congress, the Tiananmen Mothers, a human rights organization that petitions for the government change its position on June 4, drew parallels between impunity and human rights abuses and the downfall of Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Xi could finally announce an investigation into the massacre, instruct that victims and their family members be compensated for their suffering, and allow those who sought refuge outside China to return. Xi could also declassify the government's files, or dang'an, on individuals, which remain off-limits; doing so would allow people to know what information the government has about them and their family members.