Yearning for Reform and the 17th CPC Congress
The issues of greatest concern to the public are creating checks and balances against abuse of power, extirpating corruption, sustaining a high employment rate, building a social security network and establishing a fair and equal income distribution system. The first two are the core of policital reform and the latter two are directly related to it.
By Hu Shuli
As the current issue of Caijing reaches our readers, the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is getting under way, opening October 15 in Beijing. We previously noted that 2007 was “a year for waiting,” and we tried to predict trends in all domestic fields before this year’s Spring Festival in February. October 15 was the day we had been waiting for.
A new round of reshuffling within the party leadership is now drawing attention in China and from abroad. The Congress will elect a new Central Committee, Politburo and Standing Committee of the Politburo, which is tightly connected to China’s upcoming power structure.
Many who are concerned about China’s future, including people in the business community, overseas observers and the general public, are anticipating newer and more profound guidelines for political reform from this Congress. For example, a poll conducted by the official Xinhuanet Web site shows that the issues of greatest concern to the public are creating checks and balances against abuse of power, extirpating corruption, sustaining a high employment rate, building a social security network and establishing a fair and equal income distribution system. The first two are the core of policital reform and the latter two are directly related to it. These results evidently shows that the public is yearning for reform.
China’s reform process has spanned the past 30 years, starting in 1978. Political reform is making progress by, for example, replacing lifelong rule for leaders with limited terms, dividing government and party functions, launching trials for grassroots democratic elections, and considering a proposal to institute the “rule of law”. It is fair to say that China’s political reforms have accomplished a lot. However, compared with the forceful and well-paced economic reform, political reform is obviously lagging behind, which results in a gap that strains the society.
Currently, the public’s top concern is the rampant corruption and an imbalanced power system, while intellectuals are worried about the trend toward monopoly in the market.
Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of the reforms that opened up China, pointed out in the 1980s that “political reform and economic reform should depend on each other and cooperate. Economic reform will not work if political reform is not keeping pace.” He concluded that “whether our reform is able to succeed ultimately depends on a reform of the political system.” Deng’s remarks have been quoted again and again, but the tide has yet to turn toward political and economic reforms that “depend on each other and cooperate.” China’s economic development has scored tremendous achievements, and its positive experience with economic transition has been acknowledged by the world. However, political reform still has a long way to go.
Political reform results are relatively lagging not only because of the inherent complexity and sensitivity of reform, but also because some groups with vested interests in the status quo have purposely hindered reform. Reform is also being negatively influenced by certain misunderstandings and an excessively cautious stance.
For example, some argue that pushing forward with political reform will be destablizing. Yet, in fact, maintaining the status quo without any reform creates a hotbed for social turbulence. Some consider “democracy” and “constitutional government” as capitalistic attributes. Yet these are not only fruits of civilization shared by all humans but also the commitments that China should fulfill according to UN human rights conventions. Some think political reform should be conducted silently, which is against a principle of democracy that requires public participation in decision-making.
In the face of all these established roadblocks, political reform becomes a sensitive issue, and some efforts in this arena are filed under other titles to divert pubic attention. In this way, overall planning for political reform becomes improbable. Clearing away misunderstandings, updating concepts and reiterating purposes are necessary steps toward reform.
At the center of political reform is democratization. Just as economic reform cannot divert from the road toward market reform, political reform cannot divert from democratization.
Hu Jintao, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, has made many comments about democracy in recent years. He has pointed out “there will not be modernization without democratization,” stressing “people’s legal access to democratic elections, decision-making, management and supervision” and proposing “the development of democratic politics with Chinese characteristics through a system of governing for the people, by the people in order to institutionalize, standardize and set procedures for socialist democracy. We should adopt democratic system, forms and measures to ensure that people can be real hosts of their own homeland.” In his “6-25” keynote speech, Hu reiterated the goal of “developing socialist democratic politics.” There are democratic connotations in concepts such as “scientific development,” “people-oriented policy” and “harmonious society.” These have been proposed by a new generation of leaders and have obtained public approval.
Comprehending political reform is hard, and pushing forward even harder. The task is made more difficult by the necessity to consider Chinese culture. Although a prosperous economy provides a sound, external environment for reform, political reform, as a massive project, still requires statesmenship, bold but well-calculated experimentation. People now hope for reform as well as stability; they can face reality and yearn for change. Such hopes spark in the grassroot, which brings challenges, opportunities and a test for the leadership.