Whether or not they want to call it Western-style democracy, China's rulers certainly need transparency and accountability in their governance to avoid some unimaginable disaster. This message is coming loud and clear from some levels within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sections of the media and elements of the bureaucracy. To be sure, these people are not talking about replacing CCP rule. They are simply asking for a measure of freedom and informed decision-making.
This was the message in a recent declaration jointly signed by 13 party elders, who formerly held medium-level posts, urging the CCP leadership that "to allow people to speak out freely will do no harm to the administration." They criticized the closure of the China Youth Daily's weekly supplement Freezing Point as another example of "vicious media control" by the Central Propaganda Department. They maintained that "depriving the public of liberty of speech will bring discord to political and social transition and will cause group confrontation and social unrest."
This is quite a bold declaration, even if it doesn't challenge CCP rule. It suggests that things are starting to stir in China, without meaning to read too much into it in the near future.
Vice-director of the State Environment Protection Administration Pan Yue (
Calling for an "open and sunshine administration," he said that environmental protection was the "best area for experiments in socialist democracy and rule of law," because it was the least politically sensitive and enjoyed public support.
Pan said that individual companies were not the main culprit, it is the system. In other words, "The pollution is now structural." This is borne out by official statistics pointing out that more than 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes are polluted, as is 90 percent of ground water in cities. In that case, the solution doesn't lie simply in introducing open administration in the environmental sector or any other area, even if that were possible. China needs a structural overhaul to build transparency and political accountability across the board. It means that people should be able to change their political leaders periodically if they are not satisfied with their performance.
This doesn't mean that democracies are perfect. What it means is that, unlike in China where communist oligarchs have decided to rule in perpetuity, in democratic countries people get to elect their governments.
That China is suffering a systemic crisis is also borne out by Premier Wen Jiabao's (溫家寶) recent statement. Responding to worsening official statistics about the law and order situation, he reportedly warned that the rampant seizure of farmland for development was one of the main threats to social stability.
Wen acknowledged that: "Some locales are unlawfully occupying farmers' land and not offering reasonable economic compensation and arrangements for livelihoods, and this is sparking mass incidents in the countryside."
And he warned, "We absolutely cannot commit a historical error over land problems," referring obviously to the many farmers' rebellions in the nation's history (including the Communist Party-led revolution.)
Wen is right to worry, considering that even official statistics about growing unrest in the country are pretty disturbing.
Last year, for instance, there were 87,000 criminal cases of public disturbance, up 6.6 percent from the previous year. Incidences of mob violence are said to have increased by 13 percent, with crimes involving "interfering in government functions" up 18.9 percent. It is safe to assume that the situation is much worse than indicated in official statistics.
It is heartening to know that the seriousness of the situation is acknowledged by the premier. But this doesn't mean much when the authorities are simply tightening their punishing regime. Last December, the police rained bullets on rural protesters in a village in Guangdong Province, killing several in the process.
This tougher approach is based on the premise, as spelled out by an official, that: "For a considerable time to come, our country will be in a period of pronounced contradictions within the people, high crime rates and complex struggle against enemies."
It would seem that the house arrest of Chen Guangcheng (
The authorities have predictably dubbed him a liar and a traitor who has revealed state secrets to foreigners. According to a city spokesman, "Chen himself has broken the family planning law and we are investigating the case."
In other words, it is the same old policy of shooting the messenger and not heeding the message.
Chen has called the authorities "a bunch of bandits."
He is quoted as saying, "I have been detained and beaten several times since September." He believes that, "The grassroots civilians are awakened already so the only thing they [the authorities] can depend on is violence."
There are others like Chen who are challenging the authorities to uphold the law. There is, for instance, the case of a prominent land-rights activist, Liu Xinjuan (
There is also the case of Hu Jia (
No wonder the government's new regulations, effective from March 1, to make AIDS treatment accessible and to ban discrimination against AIDS patients are creating no ripples.
The government has a terrible credibility deficit when it comes to public policy pronouncements about its good intentions. According to Hu Jia, the fact is the authorities "wish [HIV] carriers would die as soon as possible so they could bring less trouble."
But the government gets away with making meaningless and ineffectual pronouncements of good governance, even as it flagrantly violates it own laws. That's because it has largely managed to suppress any meaningful political dissent and organized political activity.
Still, it is starting to surface even within its own narrow confines, as is borne out by the declaration for freedom of speech by some party elders, and Pan's call for "open and sunshine administration."
These are welcome signs, with the potential growing for much-needed political changes in China.
Sushil Seth is a writer based in Australia.
Oppression is painful, and not being able to express it increases the pain 10-fold. This level of pain is something that Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongolians understand all too well. A question often posed to Uighurs in the international arena is: “You say you are facing genocide, but why don’t we see corpses, like in Rwanda and in Bosnia?” If you were a Uighur, what would you say? What if you replied: “The source of the problem is your lack of vision. It’s an indication of your weakness and China’s strength, and it is not a matter of our sincerity.” Such a harsh response would
President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Double Ten National Day address has attracted a great deal of analysis and many different interpretations. One core question is why Tsai chose this occasion to discuss Taiwan’s national status. What was her main motive and what effect did she intend to have? These are issues that clearly need further clarification. The section of Tsai’s speech that attracted the most attention internationally was, not surprisingly, the part where she laid out “four commitments” that she said should serve as common ground for all Taiwanese, regardless of political affiliation. The commitments were to liberal democracy and constitutional government; that the
Double Ten Day, Oct. 10 every year, is an important day for Taiwan, as it marks the Republic of China’s (ROC) National Day. Major holidays are usually a time for celebration and commemorative activities, but among all the clamor and excitement, Double Ten reflects one essential fact: that Taiwan is still not a normalized society. As usual, there was a large parade in front of the Presidential Office Building, displaying to the world Taiwan’s social diversity and its soft and hard power, and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) gave an address, relaying her message to the nation and to the world, while the
Ever since former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was recalled last year, “Han fans,” as well as the KMT hierarchy, have made pro-Taiwan lawmakers their enemy No. 1, and Taiwan Statebuilding Party Legislator Chen Po-wei (陳柏惟) has been on top of that list (“Recall part of ‘generational war’: expert,” Oct. 19, page 3). Chen has always been one of Han’s harshest critics, and Han fans have vowed revenge. Former legislators Yen Kuan-hen (顏寬恆) and Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), being such sore losers, were not amused about losing to Chen democratically and have amassed significant resources backed by