Wen on Political Reform: no Hidden Ambitions

Both in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, and in a meeting with American Chinese-language media, Chinese chief state councillor Wen Jiabao (温家宝) said this week that his government was seeking political restructuring. In his UN statement (“Getting to Know the Real China”) of Thursday, Wen told the General Assembly that his government would continue to deepen institutional reform:

We will endeavor to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas, between different regions and between the rich and the poor. We want to make sure that each and every citizen shares the benefit of China’s reform, opening up and development. While deepening economic restructuring, we will also push forward political restructuring. Otherwise, we cannot achieve the ultimate goal of economic reform and we will lose what we have gained from our modernization drive. We respect and protect human rights, uphold social equity and justice, and strive to achieve the free and all-round development for our people. This is the important hallmark of a democratic country under the rule of law. It is also a basic guarantee for a country’s lasting peace and stability.

Also, China would

continue to carry forward its fine culture. The development of a country and rejuvenation of a nation require not only great economic strength, but more importantly great cultural strength. The moral values and wisdom drawn from the 5,000-year Chinese civilization belong not only to China but also to the world. We will vigorously develop cultural programs and accelerate the development of a moral and ethical code that is commensurate with our socialist modernization drive and consistent with the traditional virtues of our nation. We respect the diversity of civilizations and will increase dialogue and exchanges with other civilizations to forge a common cultural bond for humanity. The Chinese nation, who has created an economic miracle, will create a new cultural splendor as well.

Wen repeated his theme about political reform in support of modernization in a meeting with people in charge of American Chinese-language media and Hong Kong and Macau media (美国华文媒体和港澳媒体负责人), as quoted by Changjiang Ribao (长江日报):

If economic reform doesn’t get the protection that comes from reforming the political system, it won’t be fully successful, and even the achievements made so far could still be lost again. In the reforms of our political system, what needs to be addressed most importantly? I believe the most important thing is to guarantee the the liberties and rights of the people given to them by the constitution and the law. That is to say, to mobilize the masses of the peoples’ initiative and creative spirits, in a relaxed [宽松 (kuān sōng), sometimes also translated as “liberal” – JR] political environment, enabling people to develop an independent spirit and creative thought, to let the people obtain freedom and comprehensive development – the main connotation of democracy and freedom.

Of course, when China wants to establish a country democratic ruled by law [or a country with law and order – 中国要建立一个民主和法治的国家 (fǎ zhì)], the so-called rule by law means that after a political party took power, it should act in accordance with the constitution and the law, the party’s will and positions must be turned into constitutional and lawful provisions by rightful procedures, and the ways of organizing must be enacted in compliance with the constitution and the law – only that can be called a country governed in accordance with the law (依法治国, yī fǎ zhì guó). This may take some time, but it is what modern civilization and modern politics demand, and it is what we must strive for.

When Wen previously called for political reform and loosening an excessive control by the CCP in Shenzhen on August 21, the Guardian suggested that

Wen’s comments – taken at face value – would appear to mark a change in the formula that has governed China since Deng inaugurated his economic reform.

Not so fast, argues D. S. Rajan, director of the Centre for China Studies in Madras (Chennai), India. Both party and state chairman Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao himself were steadfastly subscribed to Multiparty Cooperation and Consultation under the leadership of the CCP. Rajan’s paper also provides a summary of both critics of political liberalization in China, and its advocates.

What is rarely pointed out is that both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have almost reached the ends of their political careers. Both of them will probably step down in 2012/2013, as party chairman and leader of the government respectively, after two five-year terms in office.

Pensioners are often wiser than the active workforce, or, as John K. Fairbank, an American sinologist, found in “The Great Chinese Revolution”, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

For sure, as Wen told the United Nations yesterday, China will continue to carry forward its fine culture.


Oppose the Scarlet Letters, Sept 5, 2010

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