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Political Reforms in Chinese Colours

After successfully carrying forward and implementing the policy of economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the time has come to think in terms of initiating a policy of political reforms to give a greater voice to the people and the media in articulating their views on the policies and performance of the Government. At a time when the Internet has had a spectacular expansion in China and thousands of blogs have provided the netizens with an opportunity to express their frank views on the problems confronting the country and the performance of the Communist Party and the Government, it looks absurd to project rubber stamp bodies such as the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Parliament, under session in Beijing since March 5,2010, as the genuine voice of the people. The time has come for a genuine political restructuring of the country without damaging its political stability.

2. These refreshing views have found expression from some quarters during the current session of the NPC. Among those expressing himself in favour of political restructuring was Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself who told the NPC on March 5,2010, while delivering the annual report on the work of his Government: “ China’s modernization drive and economic reforms could risk a failure without political restructuring.The Government would create conditions for the people to criticize and supervise the Government, and let news media fully play their oversight role so as to put the authorities under sunlight.”

3. Commenting on his remarks which have not received outside China the attention they deserved, the Government-owned Xinhua news agency said: “ Observers took the remarks as a significant signal for the nation to advance political restructuring.”

4. It quoted Professor Wang Wei of the Politics School of the Chinese Academy of Governance, as commenting as follows on Prime Minister Wen’s remarks: “ Wen’s statement reflected the Central Government’s confidence although the nation faced a complex internal and external environment. If the Government gets carried away by achievements and thinks the system unparalleled, the nation will be thrown into danger, as the nation can hardly sustain its economic prosperity if political restructuring trails.”

5. It also quoted Prof. Yu Pei, head of the World History Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that advancing political restructuring would help China better address its thorny domestic concerns and bring closer the ties between the Government and the people. He added : “’If China wants to seek a bigger role in the global arena, it must grow stronger and have its economic and social problems well addressed first. In his work report to the National People’s Congress Wen admitted the Government’s work still fell considerably short of public expectations. Wen also admitted that the transformation of Government functions is incomplete and there is too much Government interference in the micro-economy, and public administration and services are relatively weak. Efforts should be made to focus on transforming Government functions, deepening reform of the administrative system and working hard to make the Government devoted to service.”

6. Among the political reforms mentioned by the Prime Minister were:

The Government will earnestly deal with serious infringements on public interests related to enterprises’ conversion to a stockholding system, land expropriation, housing demolition and resident relocation, environmental protection, labor disputes, and legal and litigation issues. It will also improve handling of public complaints. It will develop socialist democracy and effectively safeguard the democratic rights of people as “masters of the country.” China will further expand primary-level democracy and strengthen primary-level self-governing bodies so that people can better participate in the management of local affairs. The legislature is to amend the Electoral Law, adopted in 1953, during the session. The amendment aims at ensuring equal electoral rights between urban and rural residents. 7. The emphasis in Wen’s speech was still on China continuing as a socialist democracy. That means, he has ruled out Western-style liberal democracy. There will be greater freedom to criticize Government’s policies and performance, but not political dissidence. The criticisms should seek to improve the party and the Government and not weaken and undermine their primacy. That is the message which he sent across to the people through his statement in the NPC.

8. But in an editorial carried on March 4,2010, the party-owned “Global Times”, which seeks to project itself as more independent and objective than other party and Government-owned media, said: “On the long, winding path toward democracy, muzzled “people’s representatives” would undoubtedly take the nation nowhere. China is a conventionally centralized society, where consensus seems so easy to reach, and dissenting opinions are so rare. That explains why the delegates’ courage and savvy to speak the truth can play a crucial role in properly addressing the concerns of the vulnerable social groups and laying a solid foundation for a civil society. Caught in the “deep water zone” of reform, China finds itself confronted with many pressing economic, political and social problems. Past achievement can at best serve as a morale booster, though at times they may inspire solutions. While they provide a record for going forward, it is problems that demand attention. Only when the people’s representatives can freely express their concerns and frankly moot suggestions can the problems be solved efficiently while social justice is delivered. Given the domestic and international scenarios of the “most complicated year,” there is a particularly strong case for the authentic voices of representatives to be heard. Riding the wave of rising expectations, both at home and abroad, China can only go forward when the people’s representatives are truthful and outspoken at the people’s sessions.”

9. Political reforms, yes, but in Chinese colours. That is the message coming out of the NPC session.

( 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: )

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