I continue my vicarious interest in events in China – and how the system can adjust to the incredible environmental and social pressures now clearly threatening it. China Digital Times gives me a daily overview – and Hu Shuli’s piece yesterday on political reform (the chinese characters are apparently pronounced zhengzhi tizhi gaige) is quite fascinating
Economic reforms and political reforms are complementary and mutually dependent. Deng Xiaoping, the original architect of China’s economic reforms, recognized this fact early on. He said: “The question of whether all of our reforms can ultimately succeed is still to decided by the reform of the political system.”
If we go back to the beginning of reforms, we see that economic reforms and political reforms ran in parallel. Abolishing the system of life-long tenure in leadership posts, promoting the separation of the functions of the Party and the government, strengthening the function of the National People’s Congress, government dialogue with the public on major issues — these were all early trials.
In the past twenty years, however, political reforms have been far from sufficient, a fact that is undeniable.
We must beware this idea that has lately reared up — that China’s economic strength and successes are themselves a demonstration of the success of China’s political system. According to this logic, China’s political system has not changed in the past 60 years, and it is suited as well to the planned economy as it is to the market economy. Given the “political advantage” represented by this “China model,” reform was never necessary before, and reform is equally unnecessary in the future. This argument is blind to the fact that our political system is unsuited to China’s economic development right now. Moreover, it gainsays the CCP’s pronouncements on political reform, and shows blatant disregard for public feeling on this issue.
The failure of forward progress on political reform also has something to do with our apprehensions. No doubt the greatest apprehension among these is the fear that political reform, if not done carefully, will lead to social unrest. This concern is entirely understandable, and it deserves an ear. But if this fear is permitted to carry the day, the factors of social instability in China will only continue to pile up.
Owing to the sensitivity of the political reform issue, the reform discussion over the past couple of years has focused on more limited ideas like “government reform” and “administrative reform”, which have actually served to distract from the real and critical tasks of reform.
In his recent speech, Wen Jiabao said political system reforms “must protect the democratic and legal rights of the people; must broadly mobilize and organize the people to manage the affairs of the state, the economy, society and culture in accordance with the law; must resolve on a systemic level the problem of over-concentration of power and unchecked power, creating the conditions for allowing the people to criticize and monitor the government, firmly punishing corruption; must build a fair and just society, in particular protecting judicial impartiality and prioritizing the assistance of weaker elements in society, so that people may live with a sense of safety, and have confidence in the development of the nation.”
These four “musts” are a significant contribution, and can be seen as breakthrough points for political reform. The most important thing, however, is that we act quickly.