Democracy In China Delayed
One myth that pertains to trade with China is the idea that freedom and democracy will sprout due to increased contact with the outside world. Like rational people everywhere, the Chinese desire peace and prosperity, even more more so, now that they enjoy unprecedented prosperity. The Chinese government and its people want stability even more than political freedom. With China’s history of turmoil, this is understandable. Historically, the paramount Chinese institution is the government. There were no competing centers of power in China like the Church or the merchant class. The Party (the Vatican) controls both the government and the People’s Liberation Army.
In China, it’s all about prosperity, not freedom
By David Ignatius
Thursday, October 21, 2010
In the week in which China’s secretive leadership signaled the identity of the country’s likely next president, I found myself meeting here with groups of Chinese high school students, business people, journalists and academics. The eerie thing was that politics almost never came up.
Americans sometimes assume that a richer China will soon demand greater freedom and democracy. Don’t bet on it: What Chinese repeat to foreign visitors, in so many settings that the canned phrases become credible, is something like this: We like what we’ve got; we’re worried about losing it; we want stability even if it means less freedom and openness.
Chinese don’t seem to know much about Xi Jinping, the man who this week became heir apparent to President Hu Jintao, beyond the fact that he is a “princeling” son of power and that he is married to a star singer. This makes him a man who is likely to maintain the status quo — and perhaps reform the system and spread the wealth just enough to keep any dissenters quiet. For most Chinese I encountered, those qualities seem to be enough.
“You don’t find many idealists in China today,” says Alan Guo, a former Google employee who has created an online shopping business here. “It’s more important to solve a traffic jam in Beijing than vote for president.”
There’s protest in China, to be sure, but it’s largely about economic and property issues. The freedom agenda of Tiananmen Square in 1989, embodied today by the imprisoned Nobel Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, has mostly been throttled. Among the elite in China’s wealthy cities, fear of the peasants in the hinterlands seems to be a bigger concern than the opaque Communist Party leadership.
For a snapshot of China’s future, talk with students at Beijing High School 101. Decked out in their blue-and-white uniforms to meet visiting Western journalists (organized by the Committee of 100, a private U.S. group that promotes Chinese-American dialogue), the children are astonishingly bright and well-spoken in English. But even here at the top of the heap, there’s a fragility. They’re all products of China’s one-child policy, and you sense the heavy expectations of their parents: Study, succeed, prosper, don’t lose your seat on the express train to riches.
A boy with a wisp of a mustache worries that the gap between China’s rich and poor is widening and that the wealthy “just want to play golf.” A female classmate agrees: “In this society, materialism prevails. People chase after riches.” But these kids don’t seem likely to rock the boat. Many look quizzical when the visitors advise them to follow their dreams in choosing a career.
At Tsinghua University, a graduate student named Yin Wang offers a catchy and probably accurate line: “Young people don’t care who succeeds Hu Jintao; they care about who succeeds Michael Jackson.”
A recurring theme here is self-censorship by a population that doesn’t want to risk crossing the fuzzy limits on free speech. Students attend journalism school partly to learn what subjects are off-limits. Young reporters who dig beyond the official account get branded as “unreliable” and lose good assignments.
The government monitors the Internet to keep it tame, and Chinese businesses and consumers play along. One of China’s biggest Web sites is said to employ 100 people to scan the proliferation of micro-blogs here. Parents avoid telling their children about the Tiananmen protests for fear they will ask more questions — and get in trouble.
The threat to this elite urban life comes from the still-poor rural provinces. The Chinese revolution began among such peasants, and there’s an almost palpable fear that the new China’s growing inequality could trigger another such revolt. That’s one reason people are nervous about democracy: They don’t want to enfranchise those angry peasants. The Communist Party this week approved a five-year plan that calls for “inclusive growth” — meaning a bigger share of the pie for the potentially restless rural areas.
At a banquet in the Great Hall of the People, a Chinese official named Nan Zhenzhong explains that although the coastal cities may resemble Europe, the interior of China is more like Africa. He repeats the word “stability” so often it sounds like a creed.
In nearly two hours of talk, Nan doesn’t once mention the new leader, Xi, who was validated that very day. That’s another sign of the anti-political mood. Perhaps only a country born in a revolution could be so wary of change.
Chinese Article Seems to Chide Leader
By MICHAEL WINES and SHARON La FRANIERE
Published: October 27, 2010
BEIJING — China’s main Communist Party newspaper bluntly rejected calls for speedier political reform on Wednesday, publishing a front-page commentary that said any changes in China’s political system should not emulate Western democracies, but “consolidate the party’s leadership so that the party commands the overall situation.”
The opinion article in People’s Daily, signed with what appeared to be a pseudonym, appeared at least obliquely aimed at Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. He has argued in speeches and media interviews that China’s economic progress threatens to stall without systemic reforms, including an independent judiciary, greater oversight of government by the press and improvements in China’s sharply limited form of elections.
It also may have been directed at countering recent demands for democratic reforms by Chinese liberal intellectuals and Communist Party elders, spurred in part by Mr. Wen’s remarks and timed to this month’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to an imprisoned Chinese democracy advocate,Liu Xiaobo.
Mr. Wen’s comments have fueled a debate among analysts over whether he is advocating Western-style changes in China’s governing system or merely calling for more openness inside the ruling Communist Party.
Wednesday’s commentary, which closely followed the ruling party’s annual planning session, ran to 1,800 words and delved into topics only occasionally discussed in the state media. The article emphatically repeated past declarations that changes modeled on American or European political systems were inappropriate for China. It also appeared to directly reject Mr. Wen’s warning that economic progress and political reforms were inseparably linked.
“The idea that China’s political reform is seriously lagging behind its remarkable economic development is not only contrary to the law of objectivity but also to the objective facts,” it stated.
It later added: “In promoting political reform, we shouldn’t copy the Western political system model; shouldn’t engage in something like multiparty coalition government or separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches. We should stick to our own way.”
A Chinese political historian who asked not to be named in discussing the issue said, “Obviously, this is a criticism of Wen.” He later qualified his remark, saying the editorial amounted to “a sideways swipe,” noting that Mr. Wen was not explicitly named.
Still, the notion of a link is bolstered by a leaked Oct. 19 directive from Communist Party censors that ordered Internet sites and news organizations to delete all references to a recent interview of Mr. Wen by CNN. In that Sept. 23 interview, Mr. Wen said that “the people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible.”
Mr. Wen has made similar statements in previous years, and the party’s more conservative majority has appeared to bristle. In 2007, after Mr. Wen publicly embraced “universal values” like human rights, the state-controlled press reacted with what seemed nationalistic vigor, and the term has since become taboo.
Some analysts said on Wednesday that the party’s brusque reaction this time points to a growing debate over the future direction of China’s political system.
“It does appear to be a direct swipe at Wen’s statements,” David Shambaugh, who heads the China Policy Program at George Washington University in Washington, said in an e-mail. “It is more evidence of a division of views within higher levels of the party on the scope and pace of ‘democratic’ reform.”
Still unclear, he said, is what democratic reform means to members of the party hierarchy. Publicly, at least, virtually all debate on democracy in party journals and speeches has been limited to ways of making the party bureaucracy more responsive to ordinary citizens rather than giving those citizens a direct voice.
A Beijing scholar of the leadership, Russell Leigh Moses, called the editorial “a reminder to cadres that the party will set the tone and terms of the debate on political reform.”
Within the system, some are skeptical that hints of a split amount to much.
“This political reform debate remains more of a rhetorical debate than an actual policy debate, about how to define China’s democracy versus the West’s,” an editor with a party publication noted in a recent conversation.
“Perhaps some liberal media and intellectuals once again want to make something of Wen’s recent statements,” he said. “But realistically, even if he is sincere, all he can do is earn a better reputation for himself.”
Insecurities beneath China’s prosperous exterior
By Jim Hoagland
Sunday, November 14, 2010
The extraordinary power and wealth that China has accumulated in just 30 years are evident in its pulsating streets, giant shopping malls and ostentatious military maneuvers. But less-visible insecurities linger from its recent chaotic past and drive this country’s politics. China’s strengths, and its weaknesses, should be measured with care.
Will China keep rising or succumb to its paranoia?
Monday, October 25, 2010
“Warmly welcome to Sino-Century,” says an electronic display at the entrance to a private-equity fund here. That’s the name of the firm, but it’s also a good description of the rising China that could dominate the next 100 years as the United States did the previous century.
In China, Talk of Democracy Is Simply That
By JOSEPH KAHN
Published: April 20, 2007
BEIJING, April 14 — Like the spring showers that give the parched landscape a veneer of green, China’s authoritarian leaders, approaching the end of their five-year terms in office, have suggested that they would like to see their country become more democratic.
Communist Party journals and the state-run news media have published a stream of commentaries by retired officials and academics on “political system reform” and the need for “socialist democracy,” including a bold-sounding call for China to mimic Switzerland’s worker-friendly democratic governing style.
Long Time Coming
The Prospects for Democracy in China
By John L. Thornton
Summary: Is China democratizing? The country’s leaders do not think of democracy as people in the West generally do, but they are increasingly backing local elections, judicial independence, and oversight of Chinese Communist Party officials. How far China’s liberalization will ultimately go and what Chinese politics will look like when it stops are open questions.
Democracy In China Delayed