Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chinese "Political Reform" Shows Signs of Life

One month ago, PLA General Liu Yazhou penned an article for Hong Kong-based Phoenix magazine in which he argued that political reform is urgently needed to ensure China's continued rise.
"If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish."
Still, he's just part of the PLA, albeit a high-ranking one. People were more surprised two weeks later, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao went off on the same subject during a speech. He was in Shenzhen at the time, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the day when the city was established as a Special Economic Zone- an area where capitalist business practices were allowed, which would come to serve as the blueprint for the economic reforms that put the Chinese economy where it is today. Instead of restraining his remarks to economic policy, as Hu Jintao would do a few days later, Wen spoke about the necessity of introducing political reforms as well:
"If there is no guarantee of reform of the political system, then results obtained from the reform of the economic system may be lost, and the goal of modernisation cannot be achieved..." China must loosen the "excessive political control" of the Communist party, which suffers from "the problem of over-concentration of power with ineffective supervision."
Now, the Study Times has entered the fray. Study Times is the signature newspaper of the Central Party School, which is a pretty big deal in China- it's the highest school in the Communist Party hierarchy for training future leaders, and its current president is Xi Jinping, widely viewed as the most man most likely to take Hu Jintao's job in two years. Previous Central Party School presidents have included heavy hitters like Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Wang Zhen, and Hu Jintao himself. The article, which ran two days ago, was entitled "Political Reform is What People Want" and said:
"The country will have a bright future if we succeed in pushing political reform ... otherwise, the fruits of economic reform will be lost and the goal of modernisation cannot be achieved. Going against the people's will would lead the reform to fail."
To be fair, there are still enormous forces blocking the route to reform. But it's definitely becoming harder and harder for Beijing to deny that serious reforms are needed if they want to keep the country in one piece during the decades to come. Political reform is something that a number of my students, some of them Communist Party members themselves, spoke about as well. If Wen Jiabao wants to give himself a legacy that he can be proud of, this is the issue with which to do it.

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