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Maturing governance in China

By Chin Jin - posted Monday, 3 December 2012


The 18th Chinese Communist Party National Congress is over, and the usual numbers of standing committee members of the Politburo was reduced to 7 from 9. Instead of continuing to spread an ever thinning dilute political power, this time the CCP consolidated it.

Since it came to power in 1949, the leadership handovers by the Chinese Communist Party have been largely peaceful. Over the past six decades, there have been two very different leadership styles calling the shots within the Chinese Communist Regime, namely the Mao Zedong's Empire and the Deng Xiaoping's Empire.

During the Mao era, the empire experienced numerous serious internal conflicts, during which time the West had no influence at all over China and its politics, because that China was very tightly closed. Chinese people themselves lacked the strength of will to resist, despite suffering such severe and brutal oppression. Thanks mainly to these two factors, Mao's Empire withstood the a series of crises, from the anti-Rightist campaign in 1957, the 3-year famine in early 1960s, the Cultural Revolution, and the death of Lin Biao, Mao's deputy in 1971.

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It was not until 1976, when Mao's anointed leader, Hua Guofeng, imprisoned the Gang of Four (including the wife of Mao), enabling the return of Deng Xiaoping, that Hua was forced into the political wilderness, leaving Deng to create a new empire which has lasted to this day. Deng dethroned Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang before 1989, maintaining his authority and effective control of the regime. Deng outwitted them all to keep his political authority intact till today via the actions of both Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, despite his death in 1997.

The 18th CCP National Congress should be viewed as another example of a peaceful handover of political power within the Deng Empire. It is too early to tell whether Xi Jinping will continue to follow the rules of the Deng Empire or to walk to the beat of his own drum. We observers need more time to watch closely before we can judge. According to the statement of the 18th National Congress, the CCP will follow 'neither the rigid old closed-door path nor the erroneous path of changing the banner'. We can interpret this message as: the Communist Party will neither make a U-turn back toward Maoism nor make any fundamental change to the party, which would definitely be regarded as a wrong thing to do by the Party faithful.

Then we should ask where the party should be headed? Maybe even Xi Jinping himself does not know this yet. Perhaps maintaining the status quo in his early days of power would be the most effective move.

What people are really interested in is to observe whether it could be on the cards for China to undergo a political change; a transition from autocracy to democracy, under the newly installed leaders. We should be clear that the CCP is a very mature political party which has learnt abundant lessons from the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European Bloc, as well as its own political crisis in 1989.

As a result, the CCP has been carrying out not only economic reform, but also what the CCP regards 'political reform' over the past two decades, notwithstanding the significant difference in the definition of 'political reform' between the CCP definition and that made by Chinese political dissidents and international society as a whole.

The CCP's definition of political reform is already happening, being buffered and blown in the winds of continual atrophy and adaptation to China's current social environment, aiming to do everything it can to cling to power. By comparison, our own understanding and hopes for real political reform mean a democratic political reform introducing the separation of powers, which is a goal pursued by Chinese democrats and long dreamed of by the West. The chasm of interpretation between the "political reform" of the CCP and the developed world global leaders is so different. The CCP, controlling the country with the world's largest population, in the absence of an effective and relentless show of political pressure domestically and internationally, has no intention at all of starting to allow a meaningful political reform. As it stands now, the CCP has the last say, and no one else.

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Should the CCP carry out a top-down political reform of introducing the separation of powers and democracy, it would be absolutely essential to have a political figure within the Party who has vision, insight and the ability to convey a message to the people of a strong commitment of responsibility towards the welfare of the people, like Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan or Gorbachev in former Soviet Union. Is there any such person out there at this time? I do not think so.

There were some figures such as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang who somewhat resembled Chiang Ching-kuo or Gorbachev before 1989. Now they are gone, and there are no others in sight to replace them. Ten years ago, many people wishfully thought Hu Jintao had the potential to be such an esteemed and respected political figure, but the wish crumbled and fell long ago.

Then again, please recall Xi, who had the brass to make an impromptu speech in Mexico in 2009, "Some foreigners, who have a belly full of food earned by doing nothing, always find faults with us. China exports neither revolution nor famine and poverty, and makes no trouble for you. What else can you say?", This arrogant statement characterized his boldness and ignorance, and gave us a preview of the temperament of the future leader of China.

The CCP has long become a clique of mafia or syndicate who only look after the interests of the powerful and privileged few, and it is impossible to imagine that a great man with any true insight and vision could rise from such a low and corrupt clique. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Neither Hu nor Xi will serve the people or the country. What they stand for is the interest of the Party and their clique, and their top political pursuit is to maximize this interest and to prolong the steel fisted rule of the CCP. To ask them as newly installed leaders to kick start a meaningful political reform and establish a democratic system is no different from asking a tiger for its skin. It is akin to imposing capital punishment on the CCP, who would not accept such alien concept. The reality is that we should not be holding our breath for that to happen.

"Xi Jinping is the man who must change China". But I think this hope rests firmly in the hands of Xi Jinping himself. If he is not willing to be the instigator of such a leap into more advanced politics, or if he does not have the guts nor vision to act, then no one else is in a position to push him. However, the dilemmas and challenges Xi is facing might just be powerful enough to force him to make some kind of move beyond the CCP's 20-year long 'atrophy and adaptation political reform'. To force the CCP to kick start a meaningful political reform by introducing universal values and democracy of separate powers, is such an obvious essential necessity, but no one has the courage to bring about this obligation to justice.

The Chinese people need to be more willing to make a stand to protect their own basic rights and human dignity, by applying pressure on the leadership through simultaneous individual protests and mass incidents across the nation, rendering the armed police incapable to tackling the whole thing at once. Secondly, world leaders and the Western world should not be blinded by the economic gains or alliances dangled by the CCP as bait to deter the developed world from standing by their long held democratic values and moral obligations. The West needs to see through the carrot and stick manipulation, to provide wholehearted support and substantial aid to the Chinese people in support of their quest to pursue democracy and liberty.

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About the Author

Chin Jin is an M.A. graduate of the University of Western Sydney and Chair of the Federation For A Democratic China, Australia.

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