Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 8 News List

The National Congress' devolution

By Li To-tzu 李拓梓

Around the time of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) 15th National Congress in 1997, an unusual atmosphere arose within China. This had to do with the intensifying the policy of "reform and opening," and promoting the benefits of globalization.

The publishing world could let a hundred flowers bloom, selling books with capitalistic and even democratic leanings.

By the time of the 16th party congress in 2002, this atmosphere was still there.

With Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) idea of the "harmonious society," the development of freedom and capital came to a sudden halt. Yet when the mild-mannered but tough-talking Hu and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) declared that they wanted to "focus on the people," people still kept their hopes up.

But what happened was the opposite of what people had hoped. It turned out that the ones in the gold-rimmed glasses aren't always the good guys: After Hu and Wen had come to power, they left less and less space for freedom of speech.

This was done under the idea of "creating a harmonious society." Harmony was to be achieved by forcing critics to keep their mouths shut, with the notion that if there were little criticism, society could be harmonious.

With the start of the 17th party congress last month, people had very low expectations about political reform. Hu's political report to the congress was again a reason to sigh in despair. Hu did not speak of "reform of the political system" anymore. Instead, he talked about a "socialist democracy." He also dug up the long-forgotten concepts of "one central task, two basic points"and "four basic principles."

The four basic principles are keeping to the socialist road and upholding the dictatorship of the proletariat, the leadership of the Communist Party, and the promotion of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought.

From such content, it looks like any changes in the system are all in the small details, and they only allow more freedom in areas that had already been relaxed at the time of the 15th party congress.

In the election of the members of the Central Committee, only 8 percent of the candidates were eliminated. The meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress was still closed, and no questions could be asked. The situation has reverted to that at the time of the 13th party congress in 1987.

The media had been given the good tiding that the 17th party congress would be more open to the media. But, as it turned out, they were only fed small morsels of news and insignificant information. Before the 17th party congress started, China already drew the line for the media as to what they could write about.

This is a clear indication that the control China exercises over the media is getting more sophisticated. The government tries to win the media over by giving them something they want, but at the same time it gets an ever tighter grip on them, as if it wants to insist on the "four basic principles."

If China gains an ever tighter hold on its media, any hope for political reform by the government will be lost.

Some people say that the reforms that former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) promoted were a "minimalizing of political reform," but at least Jiang talked about reform of the political system and not so much about the "four basic principles."

By comparison, the group of leaders that Hu now leads not only exercises tight control over the media and freedom of speech, it is not even willing to put "reform of the political system" in the title of their political report.

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