No changing colors in China

by Frank Ching

HONG KONG — Two weeks ago, China issued a 23,000-word white paper on democracy, the first time the Communist government had ever done so. However, instead of being a blueprint for the development of representative government, the white paper turned out to be a defense of the perpetuation of the monopoly of power by the Communist Party.

The white paper, titled “Building of Political Democracy in China,” terms democracy vital, saying “without democracy there could be no socialism, much less socialist modernization.” However, its bottom line is that “upholding the unity of the leadership” of the Communist Party is “the most important and fundamental principle for developing socialist democracy in China.”

Repeating a slogan that is a standard part of Chinese propaganda, it says, “Without the Communist Party there would be no New China,” adding: “Nor would there be people’s democracy.” Party leadership, the document said, “is needed for making the state power stable.”

The white paper made it clear that China rejects Western-style democracy. Insisting that “there is no one single and absolute democratic mode in the world that is universally applicable,” the white paper asserted that China “must not copy any model of other countries.”

Just why did China issue such a document at this time? The Chinese have been under pressure from the United States to make political reforms. Robert Zoellick, the American deputy secretary of state, has urged Beijing to pursue political change by allowing direct elections.

It appears that China wishes to caution both the outside world — and its own people — not to expect any fundamental political reforms. In fact, there are signs that Beijing is more than a little jittery about political changes in countries around its periphery.

A few months ago the official People’s Daily carried an article on efforts by the Bush administration to export democracy. Headlined “Is it American democracy or American arbitrariness?” the article talked about recent political changes in Georgia, the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where authoritarian governments had lost power.

“Within a short period of time the political powers of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have changed colors,” the article said. “The ruling parties in these countries failed in general elections while the opposition parties seized power.”

In Georgia, President Eduard Shevardnadze was forced out of office in a peaceful revolution in 2003, dubbed the “rose revolution” because protesters who seized the Parliament building carried roses in their hands.

This was followed by the “orange revolution” in the Ukraine, where there were widespread charges of fraud in a presidential runoff election in November 2004. Orange was adopted by protesters as the official color of the movement because it was the predominant color in opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko’s campaign during his run for president.

Due in large part to the movement’s efforts, the results of the original runoff were annulled and a second runoff was held early this year, in which Yushchenko was declared the winner.

In Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akayev, who had ruled the former Soviet republic for 15 years, fled the country in March after opposition protesters seized government headquarters. They called their movement the “lemon revolution,” ostensibly because yellow is a color of change — like on a traffic light. Akayev resigned while in exile, paving the way for a new government.

Ironically, Kyrgyzstan, like Ukraine, was hailed as a beacon of democracy after the Soviet Union’s collapse but both countries soon became known for their authoritarian governments. And the governments that succeeded after the various “color revolutions” are not necessarily liberal and democratic.

China is clearly disturbed by these, and other, events where authoritarian governments are being overthrown in one way or another. The Chinese see Washington’s hand behind these developments.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is believed to have issued a report in May at an internal conference calling for vigilance against American attempts to start a color revolution in China.

The People’s Daily article accused the U.S. of manipulating things behind the scenes, adding: “The U.S. government does not deny this, showing self-satisfaction.”

“It is for fostering pro-American regimes that the Bush administration instigates ‘color revolutions’ in Central Asia,” it said, not for the sake of democracy. And autocratic governments can enjoy American support as long as they support Washington.

Beijing suspects that the U.S. is subverting authoritarian countries by funding opposition politicians, either directly or through nongovernment organizations. China has recently imposed strict new rules on foreign nongovernment organizations operating in the country. The reason for this is not difficult to fathom.