China has suffered long at the hands of corrupt officials. And yet the proposal to bring in a "sunshine law" requiring leaders and officials to disclose the details of their personal wealth comes back year after year. We hear the feet on the stairs, yet no visitor arrives. This is very strange. Incomprehensible, unless of course someone very powerful is obstructing it behind the scenes. If the very powerful are dragging their feet, then they will probably go on dragging them until the Party falls and state collapses.
General secretary Xi [Jinping] is in a big hurry. In his maiden speech, while he was warning of the collapse of Party and state, he also admonished us solemnly: "Idle talk harms the nation, while actual deeds benefit it!"
Idle talk about corruption harms the country, while actually doing something will benefit it. If we are to actually do something, then we will have to take arms against a sea of troubles. The "sunshine law" as put forward to the National People's Congress would be the first building block in this process. Without this actual deed, then all this talk of doing something, of cracking down, of fighting the people's war against corruption, will all be reduced to idle talk that harms our country.
Out of all the people made anxious by general secretary Xi, none can be more anxious than Premier Wen [Jiabao]. From what I know of him in the past, he has done a lot of good things. But as his time in office comes to an end, all he has left is his closing bow. If he misses the opportunity, he will be left with nothing but shame and humiliation. If he were to orchestrate the setting up of a new system for leaders at every level of government to report their wealth and that of their families, Wen Jiabao's intentions would be clear. Much more than this, such an order would inscribe him into the history books as the man who achieved what [late ousted premier] Zhao Ziyang could not, who instilled fear into an entire corrupt bureaucracy and who saved honest people from the fear of unprovoked attack. Even more than that, and most importantly, such a law would be a milestone on China's journey towards effective anti-corruption work, and its founder would go down in history.
Of course, Premier Wen alone couldn't manage to set up such a milestone all by himself. He must know that Zhao Ziyang brought a proposal before the Politburo standing committee and before the entire Politburo between May 8-10, 1989, that would require the disclosure of the personal assets of the leadership, and that it failed to be adopted because it didn't win enough support, and because [then supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping adamantly opposed it.
So the problem lies in the balance of power in the highest echelons of the leadership, and whether it is any different from 23 years ago.
How can we tell? Firstly, the first plenum of the 13th Party Congress passed a resolution saying that Deng Xiaoping would have the final word on matters 'of great importance.' That is no longer there, which is something to celebrate, something which Hu Jintao himself has offered as an example.
Secondly, the old guard back in the eighties, to a man, had revolutionary blood running in their veins. Deng Xiaoping, who entered the ranks of the leadership back in the fifties, and Chen Yun, who joined the central leadership structure of the Party back in the 1930s, were still with us. Which of today's old guard can be described as having shed blood for the revolution? What's more, with the exception of a single person at the core of leadership, there isn't a single member of the 17th Party Congress Politburo standing committee, nor even of the standing committees from the 16th, the 15th or the 14th Party Congresses, who can rival [President] Hu Jintao. Mr. Hu isn't supposed to interfere in politics directly, but who else is going to risk universal opprobrium [to make this happen]?
Thirdly, general secretary Xi Jinping has a firm attitude. He takes his duties seriously, and for him there is no turning back. And I don't think there are any bandits seeking the destruction of Party and state among the other Politburo standing committee members.
If Premier Wen were to orchestrate the proposal for a "sunshine law," this would be a selfless and wise act. Doubtless, it would also turn out to be a winning strategy, because it would win the support of the general population who oppose corruption, and of all public servants who show restraint, and it would be the perfect ending point for his political career.
The "sunshine law" is of huge importance, and could save this country. Other issues pale into insignificance beside it. It is an opportunity that comes only once in 3,000 years. What are we waiting for?
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, political dissident and former aide to the late ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.