姚永安 <環球華報> 專欄 4.1.2008
Hu Jintao Bares His Democratic Soul
Asia Inc. Magazine, Jan/Feb 2008
Wang Tai Peng
According to many China pundits and critics from the New York Times to The Economist, the 17th CCP National Congress held in mid October 2007, if anything, proved yet another indication that no political reforms of substance can be expected down the road and democratic transition remains a dream beyond China’s reach. But they can’t be more wrong.
A new starting point in China’s history: democracy
Quite the contrary, the 17th CCP National Congress is historic in many ways. It is historic because it is only now that Hu Jintao gets powerful and influential enough to unmask himself as a true blue political reformer and to redefine a new democratic, prosperous and peaceful future for China down the road. This is a sea change of Beijing’s mindset. This is a paradigmatic change in the Chinese communist leadership style and structures. This is a quiet revolution from above set in motion by Hu Jintao and his likeminded political reformers. This is totally unprecedented in the history of communist China not only because China is set to change its anti-democracy policy but to make developing democracy by empowering the people with the participation in a democratic process across China its policy goals in the next five years and beyond. It has indeed taken communist China nearly more than half a century to make this U turn. Which is why Hu Jintao proudly proclaims that China is now setting off a historic new journey of the long overdue democratic transition ‘from a new starting point of China’s history’.
Walking on two legs: Political and economic reforms
There are, however, two central pieces in Hu’s roadmap of China’s continued reforms apace to reconnect the ruling party with the Chinese people for the next five years. One is to introduce Hu’s scientific outlook on development: putting people first and balanced and sustainable growth in all areas instead of lopsided GDP growth trumping all else. And indeed, the latter is essentially what Deng Xiaoping theory and Jiang Zemin three represents come down to --- economic determinism. Yet, ever since 1989 until now, the political legitimacy of the CCP’s rule has been based on no more than the red-hot engines of explosive GDP growth. As a result, China’s been deeply plagued with the twin problems of explosive social tensions and rampant government corruptions. That shows an abyss of disconnect widening between the CCP and the Chinese populace. Thus the other centrepiece: expanded socialist democracy at all levels in all fields across China under the rule of law to reconnect the Chinese ruling party with the people. This is hoped to achieve some degree of political legitimacy for the CCP. Nevertheless, socialist democracy, modest as it is, has been stalled and tabooed by Deng and Jiang ever since the downfall of political reformers Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in 1989. It is only now that Hu Jintao has enough control of undisputed power in the military, party and government to boldly declare in the 17th CCP Congress: “We must ensure that all power of the state belongs to the people, expand the citizens’ orderly participation in political affairs at each level and in every field, mobilize and organize the people as extensively as possible to monitor state and social affairs as well as economic and cultural programs in accordance with the law”. It is only now that Hu Jintao gets sufficiently broad consensus both inside and outside the party to bare his political soul to the whole wide world: “The essence and the core of socialist democracy is that the people are the masters of the country. We need to improve institutions for democracy, diversify its forms and expand its channels, and we need to carry out democratic election, decision-making, administration and oversight in accordance with the rule of law to guarantee the people’s right to be informed, to participate, to be heard and to oversee.” In a word, Hu Jintao is now set to make China a Chinese democracy by ways of enshrining this goal in the party constitution and getting there with his roadmap of expanded democracy and intra-party democracy.
No teeth to the enforcement mechanism
Within China, however, it is widely expected that democratic reforms will go ahead and even accelerate and intensify. Still, problems such as lacking public oversight of the government’s operation, no mechanism to hold leading cadres accountable, remain. Professor Liu Chun, deputy director of the Institute of post-graduate students at the Central Party School of the CCP, reckons that the next step is to solve the problems of political reforms having no teeth to the enforcement mechanism and a paucity of democratic institutions and their resources to rein in widespread abuses of power.
Hu’s Herculean efforts behind the science
That said, it hasn’t been easy, indeed, for Hu Jintao to redefine a new democratic future for China. In an effort to make CCP a learning party, Hu frequently convened politburo study sessions for acquiring real solutions to burning issues. In the 32nd politburo study session on 29 June 2006, he put his ideas of democratic reforms and the rule of law on the table for reaching a consensus at least within the politburo before the 17th CCP Congress. Unequivocally, he already advocated democratic election, democratic policy-making, democratic management and democratic oversight by the people to galvanize China. Then, in the 36th politburo study session on December 1 2006, he pushed for extending village self-government and direct election across China. In writing up his work report for the 17th CCP Congress, it has taken him a Herculean effort in nearly 10 months to convene 20 meetings collecting opinions from 5560 people both inside and outside the party, the government, the military across the nation. But even so, it doesn’t mean political reforms launched will in future meet no stiff resistance within the military, the government and the party. It certainly will. The conservative hardliners like Jiang Zemin’s faction may be down but not out. These guys remain very much in the picture and incredibly powerful and influential especially in the propaganda and national security departments. They will try every possible way like banning books and publications, censoring news media and blogs, putting journalists and boggers behind bars to undermine or even kill off political reforms like they did before. The power struggle is still far from over. But what remains clear is that a new era of democracy is already dawning on the horizon of China.