'The Chinese Dream Is All About the People'

A commentary by Bao Tong
china-xi-jinping-march-2013.jpg Xi Jinping walks to his seat ahead of his election as China's new president in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2013.

The most important decision of the 12th session of the National People's Congress (NPC) was the leadership transition. I listened with great attention to the live broadcast of the closing session: the President's inaugural speech; the closing remarks of the chairman of the NPC; the premier answering reporters' questions. I thought Xi Jinping came across as calm and stable; Li Keqiang as forging ahead, and Zhang Dejiang as careful and thorough. They were well coordinated.

What impressed me most deeply was that Xi Jinping clearly revealed his guiding principles to be serving the people and implementing the Constitution. He pointed out that "the life and authority of the Constitution lie in its implementation." His Chinese dream is defined as "the dream of the people. I think this could stand a little further inspection. The Chinese dream can be proposed by the leadership, but it is at its heart all about the people. Its content can only be determined and enriched by the people. Some have been hoping that the new leadership will give a crystal-clear definition of "the China dream." This is neither possible nor appropriate. The dream of the People's Republic of China should mean that the leadership worries about whatever the people are worrying about; not that everyone dreams together a dream that has been designed in advance by the leadership.

Li Keqiang was on the right lines when he said that the people want their government to hold strongly to the principle of loyalty to the Constitution and fidelity to the wishes of the people. This way, even if some specific issues arise, like deviation from this line, they wouldn't be hard to set right. It wouldn't matter how much [official] resistance there was; it wouldn't be hard to overcome. If we stick firmly to this principle, an ecological society and economic development can coexist, as can efficiency and social equity, and even tackling corruption and monopolies won't be hard to resolve smoothly. I am in favor of the government working in accordance with this principle when it makes policy decisions, or when it evaluates its own work along the way and makes further necessary decisions. This is part of the normal process of government.

Similarly, along the same lines as Xi, Zhang Dejiang solemnly requested that "all organizations and individuals act within the scope of the Constitution and the law." These are solemn requirements of the country's highest authority, and should be implemented rigidly, with no exceptions. Unfortunately, it was against the law [for the authorities] to continue to deprive Liu Xia of her personal freedom during the NPC, and to beat reporters trying to cover the story. These violations of the law may seem small, but their importance is huge. I hope that the individuals or organizations who stepped outside the limits of the law and the Constitution will be investigated promptly by the judicial authorities and dealt with openly. It is absolutely necessary to ensure the safety of the people and the dignity of the law, and it should be achievable.

The new leadership will have a huge impact on the weal or woe of the entire population over the next decade. I congratulate them on their achievement. Some people assume they are well-intentioned, and worry that they will put some noses out of joint. But they certainly won't fall foul of any innocent citizen. Of course, it's unlikely that they won't offend corrupt officials and other criminals.

Indeed, it will be impossible to avoid annoying certain systems [of influence]. In China, pollution is everywhere. If something else is destroyed instead [of the environment], this won't necessarily be a bad thing. We would be condemned by history if we were to ruin through moral decay in the space of a few generations the good air and grasslands, the forests, lakes and rivers handed down by our ancestors. The growing pollution we face all around us has deep institutional roots. It will be impossible to fight corruption, or to restore our ecological and spiritual civilization without offending somebody, but this isn't worth our regret.

The new leadership shoulders a heavy burden, and has a difficult road ahead, mainly because it faces huge amounts of resistance. Therefore, it will be necessary to boost its self-confidence. Of course, such self-confidence can't be built on the back of a system rife with corruption and pollution. The new leadership has good reason and favorable conditions to build its self-confidence on the back of public opinion and the implementation of the Constitution. Only a self-confidence founded on these two things is genuine.

"The life and authority of the Constitution lie in its implementation." This is wisdom. To implement the Constitution is to govern in a constitutional manner. Governing a republic in a constitutional manner means to normalize government based on popular opinion. What hidden menace could we not avoid?

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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