Leaders Meet Amid Reform Calls

Chinese officials round up petitioners during a high-level political meeting.

2010.10.15
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A policeman talks to an old man after he was found writing characters on a street in Beijing, Oct. 15, 2010.
AFP

HONG KONG—China's ruling Communist Party has begun meeting in Beijing to discuss the country's direction over the next five years, amid growing calls for political reform and an end to government censorship in the wake of a controversial Nobel award to a jailed dissident.

Police in Beijing threw a tight net of surveillance around political activists and their families, including the wife of jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, as 300 of China's top politicians met behind closed doors for a four-day plenum beginning Oct. 15.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said he discovered on Wednesday that someone had glued shut the keyhole of his front door, although he managed to force his way out.

"I think the police did this," Jiang said. "If it had been a thief, he would have come into the apartment to look for something to steal, but nothing is missing."

Jiang said Beijing-based writer Mo Zhixu had reported the same phenomenon.

Activists also said Tiananmen Mothers campaigner Ding Zilin and top civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang had both lost touch with friends and family in the past two days, sparking concerns that they were in unofficial detention outside the city for the duration of the Party plenum.

Petitioners held

Police also detained petitioners—ordinary Chinese who travel to Beijing to complain about official wrongdoing in their hometowns.

"Parents from Shandong named Xiao Shi and Li Yufen were taken away in a police car from outside the ministry of health," a petitioner surnamed Sun said. "They've been taken to [the unofficial detention center at] Jiujingzhuang."

Sun, who was among a group of parents from around the country wanting to lodge a complaint about tainted vaccines given to their children, said the petitioners were likely to be taken back to their hometowns by local officials.

"I've been held in Jiujingzhuang twice before," she said. "The officials in charge of petitioners also come and pick you up in the evening."

Anhui petitioner Liang Yijing said she was held at a hotel by police until officials from her hometown in Lingbi county came to take her away.

"I was picked up by officials ... who took me to a hotel," Liang said. "I am about to leave to go back [to Anhui]," she said. "I won't be allowed back to Beijing after that."

Development plan

The secretive annual meeting was scheduled to debate a new five-year economic blueprint, with Liu's award and recent calls for political reform sparking speculation about what was on the table.

Details of such meetings are released only after they end, although official media said the fifth plenum of the 17th Party Congress would be attended by president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao.

China's next five-year development plan will dominate economic policy from 2011 to 2015.

Hu called recently for "inclusive growth" that leaves no one behind, the latest catchphrase indicating official unease over a widening wealth and privilege gap that sparks thousands of "mass incidents" of unrest annually.

While the Chinese foreign ministry has hit out at the award of the Nobel peace prize to Liu—whom it called a convicted criminal—Wen has also spoken in favor of political reform, launching a series of pilot schemes to boost public involvement in the southern city of Shenzhen.

'Keep a cool head'

Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who has been held under house arrest at his Beijing home since serving a jail term in the wake of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, called on Party leaders not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

"The Chinese government needs to keep a cool head," wrote Bao in a recent essay. "Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in anger, and it ruined China and destroyed him."

"Deng Xiaoping ordered the Tiananmen crackdown in anger, and stifled social progress in China, smearing his own name."

"These two individuals didn't lack talent, but they lacked the ability to stay calm, an open mind, and rationality," Bao said.

Apparently warning against a political backlash against more liberal elements in the Party in the wake of Liu's prize, Bao said hot-headed politicians could bring calamity to the country.

"I hope that our new generation of leaders won't repeat the whole sorry mess," he said, adding, "the best medicine is always the most bitter."

Reform-minded forces in the ruling Communist Party are thought to be unhappy with an economic structure seen as increasingly in thrall to powerful state-linked industries that suppress competition and boost inequality.

Open letters

More than 100 Chinese scholars, activists, and lawyers signed a letter published online Friday calling for democracy and the release of Liu along with all other political prisoners.

"We are urging measures to be taken as soon as possible so that Liu Xiaobo is freed," the letter said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of journalists and retired Communist Party officials signed a separate open letter calling on China's parliament to put an end to government censorship of the media. The letter also demands legal backing to constitutional freedoms of speech and association.

The 23 former communist officials and media leaders said that failure to reform would cause the party to "die a natural death."

Police across China have swooped down on Liu's fellow activists in recent days, holding them under close surveillance and temporary house arrest as they tried to organize celebratory events in honor of the Nobel award announced in Oslo last Friday.

The 54-year-old Liu was given the coveted prize "for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," the Nobel Committee said.

The committee cited Liu's participation in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 and Charter 08, a controversial political document that he co-authored and which landed him in prison.

The blueprint called for greater freedom in China and an end to the Communist Party's political dominance. Liu was sentenced to an 11-year jail term on Dec. 25, 2009 for "incitement to subvert state power."

Reported in Cantonese by Bi Zimo. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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