Tue, Jan 18, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A symbol of China's lost options

Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), former secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), passed away yesterday. Zhao, China's symbol of democracy and liberalization, will not see the realization of a democratic China and his death has occasioned quite a few "what ifs?"

If the Chinese leadership had taken Zhao's advice to adopt a liberal approach in dealing with the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the military would not have trampled over the protesters and China would not have faced an international boycott that hindered its economic development. Moreover, economic reform would have progressed hand-in-hand with political liberalization and the rift across the Taiwan Strait would not be so great. It is even possible that a stable cross-strait security structure would have been developed by now, rather than the two sides of the Strait eyeing each other with armed hostility.

Zhao had been expected to succeed Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) as China's paramount leader. But for sympathizing with the Tiananmen Square protesters, he was accused of supporting the unrest and "splitting the party." He was stripped of his position as CCP general secretary, his Politburo membership and his seat on the Politburo's standing committee, although he retained his party membership. He lived under house arrest for the past 15 years.

Zhao was the party secretary-general for just two years but he pioneered market reforms. During the Tiananmen Incident, he called for things to be dealt with through democratic and judicial means, thereby making a great contribution to his country. The Chinese leadership, however, have relegated Zhao and Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), his predecessor as CCP secretary general, to oblivion, and regard former president Jiang Zeming (江澤民) as the third generation leadership following Deng. This is not only misleading, it is also unfair.

Today, China's economic and military might cannot be ignored. Although President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) proposed the concept of "China's peaceful rising" to blur the edge of that country's expansion and the tension and insecurity it has caused, the military was not happy with the idea and the international community never really bought the idea in any case. As a result, it was not long before "peaceful rising" was de-emphasized.

Democratic reform in China has stalled for 15 years since Zhao lost power. Although when Hu was preparing to take over the reins of power, he proposed reforms that might have moved the country closer to the rule of law, but these have since disappeared without trace. Last September, during the fourth plenary session of the 16th CCP Central Committee, Hu Jintao criticized former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev for his efforts at political liberalization and recommended adopting the methods of North Korea for the control of democratic sentiment and public opinion. He also called for the drawing up of an anti-secession bill as a weapon to be used against Taiwan.

As a leader of a regional power, Hu Jintao must learn that economic development and democratic reform are the wings of national development. The strength of both wings must be similar if development is to continue over the long term. Beijing can resist the calls of the public in the short term, but cannot ignore them indefinitely. To establish the foundation of long-term growth, to create cross-strait peace and international stability, Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jaibao (溫家寶) should help rehabilitate Zhao's reputation and nurture the seeds of democracy that Zhao planted at the cost of his political career.

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