Why is President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration so keen to link Taiwan’s fortunes to China’s regime when there are signs that its political health is not as robust as some believe?
Take, for instance, Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) recent pep talk to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in which he said that the challenges they faced were so serious that it would test their ability to govern.
The most serious threat is from a slowing economy that will struggle to provide jobs to the country’s unemployed. This is already creating serious urban unrest, on top of widespread dissatisfaction in the rural sector.
What this means is that it will become increasingly difficult for the government to bribe the urban sector at the cost of rural people because there will not be enough to go around.
Having jettisoned ideology, the CCP’s legitimacy comes from economic growth. The party was hoping that it might be able to dole out benefits to the countryside to narrow the divide between it and the urban sector.
On average, urban incomes are said to be three times higher than those of rural areas, though the gap is much wider in remote regions. But with the economy slowing, keeping the urban sector happy poses a serious challenge.
Hu’s slogan of a “harmonious society” is serious business, but it is not progressing at all. If anything, disharmony is growing.
It is becoming difficult to control sources of information, even with Internet firewalls and cyber police. There are too many bloggers doing their own thing, and there are devices and software to circumvent official curbs.
One of the ways the CCP propaganda department is responding to this is to use official publications and news sources such as Xinhua news agency to be more open about bad news.
It is not because they have suddenly become liberal. It is because in this way they can set the limits for the rest of the media outlets that have been widely reporting China’s ills.
The same approach has been evident in the response to natural disasters. The Sichuan earthquake is an example. Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and Hu won kudos for their humanitarian response to a terrible tragedy.
But when people wanted to publicly and noisily follow up their demands for compensation with investigations into the shoddy construction of local schools destroyed in the quake, the authorities shut them up.
Despite some official openness, there is no concerted effort to institutionalize public avenues for dealing with and redressing public grievances or tackling serious social inequity and injustice.
Since the regime doesn’t allow open channels of public protests, they tend to erupt spontaneously and haphazardly. Of late, these protests have become more frequent and widespread — not a good omen for the regime.
The CCP, of course, is opposed to democratization. There is demand in some quarters, though, for greater debate in the party. In this context the role of the journal Yanhuang Chunqiu (炎黃春秋) and its 85-year-old editor Du Daozheng (杜導正) are creating problems.
Du is pushing for political openness in the party along the lines of ousted party general secretaries Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) and Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦). Zhao advocated dialogue with students before the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.
In this way, Du and his magazine are not only promoting liberalization within the party but also seeking the rehabilitation of Zhao and Hu Yaobang.