By Paolo von Schirach
March 23, 2012
WASHINGTON – There is a new ferment in China as the country is in a political transition leading to the establishment of a new leadership, with Xi Jimping as new president. While the whole process of changes at the top is meticulously choreographed and airbrushed, (the March 15 purging of Bo Xilao, Chongquin party boss, is big news; but no public discussion preceded it or followed it), within the broader Chinese society something new is happening.
There are more and more public protests across China, (some 180,000 according to some accounts) and they are not always suppressed. Many episodes of popular grievances are aired publicly (the Wukan village lengthy rebellion was broadcast around the world) and talked about incessantly in the vast Chinese blogosphere and social media outlets like Sina Weibo. All this would indicate both choppy seas ahead but also more tolerance for dissent and more openness about debate. Still, where all this may lead is still a mystery.
In this new context, an interesting example of frank requests for deeper and wider reforms comes from the magazine Caixin. Its on line English language edition carries a March 23, 2012 editorial titled “The Age of Political Reform”. Note this: “Political Reform“, not “Economic Reform“.
We all know that China has undergone spectacular economic changes, most of them made possible because the political leadership allowed and indeed engouraged the growth and flourishing of private enterprise. But this fantastic revolution and the ensuing 30 years of 10% growth a year happened under the umbrella of political orthodoxy. The whole process has been orchestrated and directed by the Communist Party. No free lancing. Making money alright in China; but talking about other changes has been forbidden.
Until now, only economic reforms
Which is to say that, until now at least, economic change has had political blessing; but political change has been totally off limits. Well, may be something is changing. Granted, an editorial advocating reform in the English language, on line edition, of an interesting Chinese news magazine is not an explosive event. Still, it is worth noting it, as it may be the harbinger of bigger things to come.
Change in the air?
Should China really engage in a process leading to real political and institutional transformations, these changes will have tremendous reverberations throughout the country, Asia and the whole world. Here are excerpts from the March 23, 2012 Caixin piece:
“The Age Of Political Reform”
“Recent events make one thing crystal clear: It is time to change China’s system of government”
“China has made astounding strides since reforms began, but problems, too, abound. In particular, corruption, unfair wealth distribution and a loss of trust in society have created deep resentment. Solving these fundamental problems requires comprehensive reforms that have proved painful. Thus, some people mislead others by blaming reform for the problems, compounding the difficulty of progress…
…Today, the multiple frustrations of daily life are feeding into public discontent, which can easily turn into mob rage…
…For the past 30 years, China has been tough on reforms in some areas, but lax in others. Today, the lack of progress on political reform is stalling the entire project. Thus, many vocal advocates of market reforms, including the economist Wu Jinglian, have in recent years begun urging leaders to prioritize political reform…[bold added]
…But far too many people oppose change, and our biggest problem today is an irresolute leadership…Our leaders waver because they are afraid political reform will cause instability. [bold added]. But reality has proved them wrong. The unrest that erupted last year in the Guangdong village of Wukan was eventually pacified when the party leadership worked with the villagers to reach a solution stressing people’s autonomy, and fair and open elections were held. This is an example of successful political reform that improves, rather than disrupts, harmony…
…The Communist Party will soon hold its 18th party congress, where some progress on promoting intra-party democracy is expected, including competitive elections. The recent political events underline the urgency of political reform. It is time for a responsible government to act.” [bold added]