Thursday, November 08, 2012

China rejects end to one party rule

Some 50% of Americans may have been disappointed at Mitt Romney's failure to secure the presidency while the other half will have been celebrating Obama's success at winning a second term in the White House, but half way round the world in the second largest economy the transition of power will not be decided by the people.

Democracy unlikely

While there has been much discussion in the Western media concerning political reform in China, such changes are unlikely despite signs that some politicians are softening to the idea.

Xi Jinping, touted as being the next president, will have to tread carefully so as to avoid making political enemies in a government which has been described as a "shark pool of shark pools". Xi will have to wait until March before being officially inaugurated as president and may wait a further year before succeeding the current president Hu Jintao as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Political positioning

And even when Xi has firmly established himself within the party, the collectivist leadership will likely curb any lurking Chairman Mao tendencies Xi may have and vested interests will seek to squash his inner Deng Xiaoping, assuming he wants to push through change at all. David Pilling, writing in the FT, says that changes "are vital". Xi and Li Keqiang, slated for premier, have implicitly signed up to the World Bank's China 2030 report conducted in conjunction with the State Council Development Research Center. The report recommends more space for the private sector, more rule of law, more equality and more environmental protection. But while such proposals indicate a change in direction by the Chinese leadership, it remains to be seen whether radical political reform is added to the agenda.

"Socialist path"

In fact, on the opening of the 18th National Party Congress on Thursday, there were signs that democratic change remains a distant dream for China's people. Speaking to several thousand retired and current members of the Chinese Communist Party, President Hu Jintao stressed that China would not abandon one-party rule. In language that appeared to dash hopes of big changes to the political system, Hu Jintao said China needed to adhere to the "socialist path".

"We must not take the old path that is closed and rigid, nor must we take the evil road of changing flags and banners," Hu told the audience of officials in the Great Hall of the People. The phrase was widely circulated, and occasionally ridiculed, on microblogging site Weibo, with one user commenting, "So, we will walk in place until we die." [FT]

Turbulent time

The statements asserting the party's grip on power are perhaps to be expected. The Communist party has experienced its most turbulent period since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. It has fended off cases of corruption and murder surrounding for high-flying Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, details concerning the hidden wealth of communist officials including top politicians Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping.

Hu alluded to such cases in his speech saying, "If the anti-corruption campaign fails, the party, even the country, may perish." While the key focus of Hu's long address was the economy, his assertion that corruption needs to be addressed is very much correct [FT].

Risk of becoming unstable

If not addressed China more profound systemic problems may both slow its rise and make it "an unstable, unpredictable and even aggressive state," Timothy Gash suggests in an article which appeared in the Guardian this week.

The imbalance of wealth. epitomised by the reported millions accumulated by top leaders in China's elite [Business Week], needs to be addressed quickly before grumbles amongst the population become shouts of anger.

Difficult issues

With other issues such as Tibetan separatism, rising protests over land grabs and pollution, as well as tensions in the South and East China seas, the new administration faces many other burdens. In China, as anywhere else, a crisis can catalyse reform or revolution.

From the few that are willing to speak out on the streets, many appear to want reform. "I want to hear more about reform, economic reform and political reform," one young man told Al Jazeera.

While there are few in the West that would not welcome a move towards democracy in China, such changes need to be undertaken carefully. With strong nationalistic feelings running through the country, especially with recent spats between China and Japan over the disputed Daioyu/Senkaku islands, democracy might not necessarily be a good thing.


A landslide victory for an extreme nationalist party could bring more troubles than solutions. There is something to be said for Western style democracy. It keeps governments, and politicians, in check. But it can too have failings.

Critics point to Bush and Blair as being 'warmongers' who launched headlong into a conflict with Iraq based on false evidence. , Western governments aren't immune to corruption and scandal either. From the Profumo affair and the Watergate scandal to the MP expenses scandal that pulled the British parliament over the coals in the last few years, there have been more than a few embarrassments which might dissuade any one party state from taking up multi-party democracy.

Reform or bust

The CCP need to move forward and be more accountable to its people. At the same time China's leaders need to relax its grip on power. Continued censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech will only serve to raise levels of anger and calls for democracy and even revolution.

China has much to be proud of. The country has become the second largest economy in the world. It has raised the living standards and pulled millions out of poverty. But with growing wealth and literacy, the people are becoming more aware and critical of their leaders. The new administration ignores these voices of discontent at their peril.

As well as dealing with its own people, Xi and his new line up of technocrats will also have to placate America, a nation which mains at odds over China's territorial pursuits as well as its economic interests and currency controls [Sky].

Obama will only have four more years dealing with China. Xi will be steering his country for the next decade. Given the challenges ahead, for both leaders it may seem like a lifetime.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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