Paper Dampens Reform Hopes

A state media article suggests Chinese politics should remain on course.
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Chinese military delegates step down the stairs to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 8, 2010.
Chinese military delegates step down the stairs to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 8, 2010.

HONG KONG—A signed opinion article in the People's Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, has dampened speculation that the Chinese government may be about to embark on political reforms.

Signed "Zheng Qingyuan," the Oct. 26 article reiterated policies laid down by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, whose economic reforms propelled China into three decades of rapid economic growth and social change.

But Deng stopped short of moving away from the existing system of one-party rule, and opposed the separation of judiciary from direct state control.

"The historical changes in our country's appearance are sufficient proof that the political system we have implemented is in line with China's national conditions and has strong vitality," said the article, published two days later in the English-language China Daily newspaper.

Signed articles in the People’s Daily are usually given greater attention by China observers as they are intended to send a message.

Last month, President Hu Jintao announced that Shenzhen, once the cradle of China's economic reforms, would begin experimenting with political reforms, including "democratic elections," sparking meetings and discussions among human rights and democracy activists around the country.

But while Hu promised the government would support "bold experimentation and pioneering work in the special economic zones," opinion pieces in the official media have warned that China will not be working towards Western-style democracy any time soon.

China's current political system is able to "concentrate social resources and improve national efficiency to the maximum at crucial moments and on significant occasions," the People's Daily article said.

It cited the country's response to the 1998 floods and the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake and in organizing the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo as examples of what communist-ruled China could achieve.

"The idea that more than 30 years of reform and opening-up has made remarkable achievements in economic development, yet political reform has seriously lagged behind, is not only contrary to objective laws but also inconsistent with objective facts," it said.

While it admitted that some reforms were necessary to "preserve fairness and justice in society," the article said China should stick to the formula that had already brought it great success.

"To adhere to the correct political orientation, and to actively, steadily and prudently push forward political reforms, we must unswervingly adhere to the Party's leadership," it said.

"Deepening political reform must be aimed at enhancing the vitality of the Party and the country."

Political reforms slow

Beijing-based lawyer and political activist Chen Yongmiao said that it had taken three decades for the Chinese government to begin political reforms, and that when they did, the result was a shoddy one.

"Everything we have heard coming out of the politburo since 1978 has been focused on the leadership of the Communist Party," Chen said.

"They are not going to institute political reforms. They'll still be talking like this in 10 years' time," he added.

U.S.-based author He Qinglian said she could detect no indication in the text of the article that the Chinese government was about to start political reforms.

"The communique from this year's fifth plenum [of the Communist Party central committee] only had a single feeble sentence," He said.

"What they mean by continuing to push forward with reforms to the political system in a stable manner is that they will continue to uphold the socialist system and support the Party's leadership," she said.

"What sort of reform is that?"

According to He, the Chinese government would only consider political reforms if there were no other options open to it.

"Only when there is nowhere left to go, when they are in severe financial difficulties, and when it is a choice between reforms and ceasing to exist, will they go ahead with political reform," she said.

She said that Qing dynasty [1644–1912] Empress Dowager Cixi had pursued and executed those trying to modernize China along the lines of the Meiji era [1868-1912] reforms in Japan.

"The empress said that the reforms were aimed at saving China, not the Qing Dynasty, so she wouldn't support them," He said.

Reported by Wen Jian for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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