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China in Hu’s Colours: Part I

“People’s democracy”, a “moderately prosperous society”, a “scientific outlook on development”, a “harmonious society” and “strengthening the soft power of the Chinese culture”—–these were the main themes of the proceedings of the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which concluded at Beijing on October 21,2007.

2. As the Chinese media pointed out, the expression “people’s democracy” was the most frequently used in the report presented by President Hu Jintao, in his capacity as the Party Secretary, to the Congress at the beginning of its proceedings.There were 60 references to it in his report and it figured repeatedly in the subsequent discussions on his report.

3. As China nears next year’s Bejing Olympics, its leadership is keen to shed the image of China as an authoritarian State and to project its image as a genuinely democratic state—- but it is a democracy in Chinese colours and not in Western colours. What the Chinese Party leaders sought to convey to their own people and to the rest of the world was that what one saw in China is not the rule of the few over the many, but the rule of the many through the few, it is a State where decisions are made and power is exercised not in darkness, but in full sunshine.

4. For China’s progress and stability in the future, political development is as important as economic and social development. That is what Mr.Hu sought to underline in his report. What should be the political characteristics of the Chinese State would be decided by the Chinese people through their party in accordance with their genius and experience. It will not be imposed from outside. The Chinese media quoted Mr. Yang Guangbin, Professor of the Renmin University of China. as saying: “With more individual freedom, gradual shaping of unique concept of democracy and solid forming of institutional arrangements, China-style democracy is emerging.”

5. What are the characteristics of this emerging Chinese-style democracy? Hu himself drew attention to them in his report as follows:: The supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of the law, avoidance of arbitrariness in decision-making and governance, collective leadership through the party tempered by a division of individual responsibilities, democratic centralism moderated by inner party democracy, decisions based on information and intellectual support to the decision-making process, self-management, self-service, self-education and self-oversight. Mr.Hu emphasised that “power must be exercised in the sunshine to ensure that it is exercised correctly”.

6. The key points in his report were:

  1. Public hearings must be held for the formulation of laws, regulations and policies that bear closely on the interests of the public.

  2. The most effective and extensive way for the people to be masters of the country is that they directly exercise democratic rights in accordance with the law to manage public affairs and public service programmes at the primary level, practice self-management, self-service, self-education and self-oversight, and exercise democratic oversight over cadres. Such practices must be emphasized and promoted as the groundwork for developing socialist democracy.

  3. The Party organizations at all levels and all Party members should act under the Constitution and laws on their own initiative and take the lead in upholding the authority of the Constitution and laws.

  4. The functions of the government must be separated from those of economic enterprises, matters requiring administrative examination and approval must be reduced,procedures must be standardised and Government should not intervene in microeconomic operations.

  5. Laws and rules of procedure should be improved to ensure that state organs exercise their powers and perform their functions within their statutory jurisdiction and in accordance with legal procedures.

  6. The need for continuous political re-structuring in order to improve political management.

7. While China would continue to be a one-party State, the Party should avoid any pretension of a monopoly of wisdom. Non-party intellectuals and technocrats would have an increasing role in policy-formulation and governance. One need not have to be a party member in order to be associated with the Government, but those associated with the Government—whether they are party members or not— must accept party supervision over their functioning.

8. Liberal democracy has two important features: The right of the people to elect their leaders and to question in open the wisdom of the decisions taken by the Government. The Chinese-style democracy would not have these features. The leaders will be elected by the party cadres in accordance with party procedures. While there would be a widest possible public contribution to decision-making by the leadership, once a decision is made, its wisdom cannot be challenged. The expression of any reservations or dissent should be in the darkness of party corridors and not in open sunshine. However, it was stated that the party has decided to experiment with direct elections of Party chiefs in more than 200 townships in Chongqing, Sichuan and Hubei. ( Continued in China in Hu’s Colours: Part II)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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