Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinks in the Armour of the Hu Jintao Administration

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinks in the Armour of the Hu Jintao Administration

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

The Hu-Wen Team's Cautious Reform Agenda

Since the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989, each Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress-held every five years to select the country's leadership bodies and to set new policies-has carried with it expectations that somehow, the door to political reform may be opened a bit wider. Since Pres- ident Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao took the helm follow- ing the Sixteenth CCP Congress in November 2002, these rel- atively dynamic Fourth-Generation honchos have done much to elicit hopes that some elements of liberalisation associated with late reformers Hu Yaobang ... and Zhao Ziyang ... may sooner or later be resuscitated. Even though the Hu-Wen team has in the past couple of years adopted dracon- ian measures to muzzle dissidents, close down offending NGOs, and wield the proverbial big stick against forward-looking news- papers and websites, a sizable number of liberal cadres and in- tellectuals are still cautiously optimistic that Beijing will deliver the goods at least regarding limited goals such as dangnei minzhu ..., or "democracy within the Party."((1)

It should be noted from the outset that throughout the first five years of the so-called Hu-Wen xinzheng ... ("new deal"), the two leaders and their colleagues have repeated state- ments made by late patriarch Deng Xiaoping and ex-president Jiang Zemin that China would never adopt "Western-style re- form" or institutions such as multi-party elections or the tripartite division of powers among the executive, legislature and judici- ary.((2) Premier Wen, whose portfolio is economics and not ide- ology or politics, is generally regarded as the most "progressive" among Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) members partly due to his association with late Party chief Zhao. And in late 2006 and early 2007, Wen took the initiative to underscore the CCP's commitment to political reform, at least for the long haul. For example, in an unusual article carried by Xinhua News Agency in late 2006, Wen wrote that science, democracy, free- dom and human rights were "not unique to capitalism" but were "values that are all mankind hankers after in our long historical progression."((3) Similar sentiments were stated by the premier during his post-National People's Congress press conference in March this year.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that the premier will only entertain gradual, non-radical steps toward adopting demo- cratic institutions such as one-person one-vote elections. The cau- tiousness of Wen's agenda is evident from what he told the British media while visiting the country last year. "Democratic construction, particularly direct elections, could only take place gradually and incrementally according to the national conditions of [individual] countries," Wen said. He added that if the masses can run a village properly through the electoral process, the same principle can "in future" be applied to a township, and then a county, and a province.((4) It is understood that Beijing is talking about a long-term time-frame for eventually developing nation-wide elections. There are no indications that the Hu-Wen team will revive experiments with upgrading direct elections from the village to the town or township levels, although more than a dozen towns or townships in provinces ranging from rich Guang- dong to rural Sichuan experimented with direct polls to choose their leaders in the last years of ex-president Jiang's tenure. Moreover, senior advisers to Jiang such as former Shanghai po- litical science professor Wang Huning reportedly tried to per- suade the leadership to consider a more rapid and substantial pace towards holding direct elections.((5)

It is realistic to expect that only limited reforms will be carried out until the end of the Hu-Wen leadership's second five-year term in 2013. These efforts at liberalisation have been designed to attain the two major goals of the Hu-Wen xinzheng: realising "scientific development" and "constructing a harmonious soci- ety. …

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