Political reform overdue in China

Twenty-five years have passed since the Chinese leadership suppressed by force the student-led democratization movement centered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. With Chinese media keeping silent over the anniversary, it looks as if the Chinese Communist Party and government were trying to erase the memory of that movement, which called for elimination of corruption, government accountability, freedom of speech and the press and expansion of workers’ rights, among other things.

While China has since achieved robust economic growth to become the world’s No. 2 economy today, there are no signs that the CCP leadership are making serious efforts for democratization. However, political regimentation as pursued by President Xi Jinping will not bring about true stability to the country. It is high time that the Chinese leadership carried out political reforms to establish a democratic system — a prerequisite for a stable society.

A vigil for the April 1989 death of Hu Yaobang, a reformist former general secretary of the CCP, led to the start of the democratization movement. Although it gained momentum, receiving support from citizens and some media, hardline party leaders eventually cracked down on the demonstrators at and near Tiananmen Square by sending in troops with tanks and assault rifles to put the protests down on the early morning of June 4, 1989. The Chinese authorities say that 319 citizens and students were killed, but other estimates put the number of victims much higher.

The Chinese leadership condemned the movement as a “counter-revolutionary riot” and claimed that the demonstrators were trying to overthrow China’s socialist regime, and continued to reject the democratization as demanded by the protesters.

Rapid economic growth has since made China richer, with the country’s gross domestic product reaching 56.884 trillion yuan (an equivalent of some ¥950 trillion) — more than 33 times higher than in 1989. But in the process, China has suffered serious social problems, such as a widening gap between rich and poor and between urban and rural areas, rampant corruption of officials and environmental disruption.

Protests are taking place in large numbers, including demonstrations against land expropriation and construction of chemical plants and garbage disposal facilities. In 2011 alone, 180,000 protest demonstrations took place across China. Adding to the deteriorating public security are the recent series of terrorist attacks blamed on Uighur activists.

China’s leadership should be aware that as the nation has grown wealthier, its people have developed a stronger sense of human rights and embraced diverse values, and that they do not have blind faith in the current regime of state capitalism under the CCP’s exclusive leadership.

The response by Xi, who became party chief in November 2012, has been to clamp down on protests by intellectuals and minority activists and tighten control of Internet media, while selling people what he calls the “Chinese dream” of building an all-round well-off society and restoring China’s greatness.

In April, Xi held the first meeting of the party’s new Central National Security Commission, and cited “politics” as one of the areas where security must be ensured — an indication that he has no plans to ease the CCP’s grip on power. However, a highhanded approach toward dealing with people’s discontent and dissent will not work in the long run. Eliminating privileges accorded to party officials would be an important first step toward democratization. To help ensure that, the Chinese leadership should make the judiciary free from party influence so Chinese citizens can receive equal treatment under the law irrespective of their positions in society.

  • “State Capitalism” is a contradiction in terms.

  • Roppi

    “Chinese dream” of building an all-round well-off society and restoring China’s greatness.

    Restoring China’s greatness is one of the key delusions facing the CCP and by implication their brainwashed ‘subjects’..

    There was a time when the Chinese civilisation was arguably the most ‘advanced’ of it’s day – just like the Roman, Greek and Mesopotamia all had their respective days in the sun..

    They have all made lasting contributions to the evolution of mankind and the Chinese are certainly part of that amazing story.

    However, their greatness wasn’t sustainable in an ever changing world – they weren’t able to evolve beyond feudalism – corruption and the huge disparity between the have and have nots..and the ‘evolution’ gave the world the CCP!

    A new world exits where countries and cultures are judged by others as to the contribution they make to the world – how they treat their own people and those less fortunate. No present country has achieved high marks in this regard – although some are clearly better than others…

    • ltlee1

      1. Why is restoring China’s greatness a key delusion? Let us say the Chinese people are of average intelligence. Why is a country with about 1/4 of humanity and hence 1/4 of humanity’s best and brightest aspiring to be great delusional or more delusional than smaller country having the same aspiration? Did Britain and the US not achieve greatness before? Do you think peoples aspiring to achieve greatness is limited to the White race or pretended white race only?

      2. How corrupted is China in comparison with other countries? I have yet to see any comparison. Transparency International provides a corruption perception index. But it measures subjective perception rather than corruption objectively. Needless to say, subjective perception is inevitably colored by one’s biases, racial and otherwise.

      3. How does China treat its own people? First, do we widespread rebellion as in democratic countries such as India and Philippine? The answer is no. Secondly, the approval rating of the Chinese government by its people is very high according to surveys carried out by Western organizations.

      As for how China has treated the unfortunate of the world, China’s record is also stellar. No, China is not the largest donor. However, China’s charity does not lead to disasters as described in Michael Maren’s book “The Road To Hell: The Ravaging Effect Of Foreign Aid And International Charity.” Mr Maren singled out China’s contribution as the only exception. For an update on the same vien, try “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How Is A Better Way For Africa” in which Ms Dambisa Moyo suggested China’s approach as a model for other countries to follow.

  • ltlee1

    25 years on, the Chinese society firmer on its path because the society as a whole don’t believe in magic. In general, after a distressed society has exhausted available material solutions to its problem, many members of the society will turn to spiritual/magical thinking for solutions.

    Mao and his team had certainly performed miracles/magic in defeating first the Japanese invaders and then Jiang’s
    larger and better equipped army unifying China. Hence Mao’s brand of non-scientific magical thinking was accepted if not applauded during the GLF when the country was under great stress. It was a mistake and China learned a bitter lesson.

    China was again stressed during the period of the CR. This time, primarily the young and the restless had once again turned to Mao’s brand of magical thinking. Again it was a mistake and the country learned another bitter lesson on Mao’s brand magical thinking.

    China was again under stress 25 years ago, this time some of the young and the restless took up a different brand of magical thinking with a Western vaneer. Liu Xiaobo represents an extremist magical thinker. According to him, the solution to China’s problem is simple. China and Chinese would benefit from being a Western colony and colonial subjects. China would be better if it was Western colony and Chinese second class citizens, the longer the better.
    However, China was not interested in solutions based of magical thinking this time around.

    Since then, China has walked the narrow path of scientific thinking. Western country such as the US, on the contrary, has frequently based its policy on a democracy and liberty brand of magical thinking. The different results are obvious. Of course China still needs reform. Nevertheless, I would say the Chinese people themselves are the best judges on the “when” and the “how.” Suggestions from afar, are more likely to be based on this or that brand of magical thinking. Useless if not dangerous.

    • Roppi

      Do you actually read what you write before posting??

      Seriously????: “Mao and his team had certainly performed miracles/magic in defeating first the Japanese invaders and then Jiang’s larger and better equipped army unifying China..et al.”

      “Secondly, the approval rating of the Chinese government by its people is very high according to surveys carried out by Western organizations.” :))

      You’re obviously a very deluded man – and may I suggest you seek professional help..

      I also counsel you to read a greater range of historical references than the versions written and approved by the CCP..

      • ltlee1

        Thank you for your concern. But I am fine. my posts were mostly on Western references including surveys done by Western poll takers. However, I am not going to answer your any further given my post was deleted.