Panelists at a forum yesterday focused on many of the challenges facing the Chinese government in its implementation of democracy.
Lowell Dittmer, professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley and Christopher Hughes, director of the Asia Research Center at the London School of Economics and Political Science, spoke about political and administrative reform in China at a forum entitled "The Rise of China: challenges and opportunities" hosted by the Institute for National Policy Research and the Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei.
For all their recognition of the progress the Chinese government has made in the arena of political reform, they also addressed many of the remaining problems.
Dittmer said that political reform in China is alive and continues to be pursued, but it is understood quite differently there, and certainly cannot be equated with Western democracy.
"Here we must bear in mind that democracy in China made its debut in the countryside among the peasantry, defying both Western precedent and social-scientific predictions," he said, referring to village elections in some 30 percent of China's more than 2000 counties.
He said that the villages have institutionalized reasonably competitive elections of village chiefs, villagers' committees and village representative assemblies, noting that the advent of civil society seems a useful if not necessary prelude to democracy.
Noting that the effort to expand democracy from this base has been blocked from above, Dittmer noted that China, in the long run, will follow its East Asian neighbors in the development of some form of representative democracy.
"Political reform in China is ongoing, though it has certainly become more cautious since the reform of the early 1990s", he said, noting that "corruption and inequality" are two grave and growing problems throughout this cyclical and periodical reform process.
In Hughes's opinion, some significant administrative and political reforms have been accomplished in China. He also said that there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that the reform has not been sufficient to allow the government to manage the contradictions in Chinese society generated under `reform and opening,' the economic goal established by former leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in 1980.
Hughes said that the Chinese government has to establish a rule-based society if it is to meet its goal of economic construction, as `reform and opening' envisioned.
Apart from the problem of social inequality, Hughes said that the challenge threatening to cast a shadow over China's movement towards a more democratic system is the growing concern over a rising Chinese nationalism, which is also one of the main obstacles in settling cross-strait relations.
In response to the speakers, Chen Ming-tung (陳明通), professor at the Graduate Institute of National Development of the National Taiwan University, said that while he agreed that there has been some renewal in some aspects of political reform in China, he doubted whether the reform can bring democracy to China like it happened in other Asian countries.
Referring to South Korea and Taiwan, Chen said that the government has to allow opposition parties to get power. In China, however, the authorities always think that only the Chinese Communist Party can bring peace and development to the country, he said.