Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Reform Or Risk Another Cultural Revolution

Wen Jiabao's message couldn't be clearer:

"We must press ahead with both economic reform and political structural reform, especially reform in the leadership system of our party and country," Wen said at his annual press briefing at the end of the yearly session of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament.

"Reform has reached a critical stage. Without successful political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform and the gains we have made in this area may be lost.

"The new problems that have cropped up in China's society will not be fundamentally resolved, and such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again."

I have in the past been critical of Wen. When all's said and done, he's still a chief functionary within a dictatorial apparatus. However, this appears to be a very clear call for political reform, and the most forceful pro-reform speech I can remember coming from any CCP official since Deng Xiaoping. Given Bo Xilai's love of Cultural Revolution-like events (although lacking the violence and anti-elite message of the original) it is also a clear dig at the direction in which Bo would like to take the country. This speech can only be welcomed.


justrecently said...

I'm almost sure that Wen has believed this all the way since 1989 - but there are commitments within the party which weigh more heavily than personal beliefs. Wen has made similar remarks a year ago, on the same occasion, and while this may annoy many CCP quarters, they will hardly see him as a source of danger any more.

When he urged political reform in fall 2010, he was a lone caller in the desert - maybe he's the only top official who means liberalization when talking reform. If he had many supporters at the top, he'd either not speak up, or he would actually be in a position to move things.

I believe he mainly has his political heritage in mind.

Miles said...

Though I rather like Grandpa Wen, I also lean more towards him thinking legacy here (a few best-seller pages in the last chapter of his memoirs). I've read elsewhere that political grandstanding by de facto lame duck party members is not that uncommon, and I don't see his comments as being particularly demanding or forceful. Rather, they're more a political necessity at this point. Calls for reform are echoing in the great hall, and politicians are saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we're working on it.' It's like when you're running late to a meeting. You get a phone call from the person waiting, and, invariably, you always tell him you're a bit closer to the destination than you actually are.

Anonymous said...

I have to partially agree with Justrecently here. However with Bo Xilai under imminent threat at the moment I can not escape the feeling that "grandpa Wen" is more than just a paper tiger.

justrecently said...

Wen is definitely no paper tiger, Anonymous. Even if the role he is meant to play is that of the good uncle among not so nice peers, he is at the top - he knows how to fight, and there's no reason to believe that he'd be less resourceful than any other member of the politbureau's standing committee.

Gorbachev or Shevardnadze weren't paper tigers either. They actually made big impacts - far bigger than Wen's. Clout doesn't need to come with a monster's face.

justrecently said...

Wen Jiabao's call for political reform has been largely ignored because it lacks both substance and method, argues He Weifang, a professor of political science and law at Beijing University. He recommends registration of political parties as juristic persons to clarify what he sees as blurred borders between the party and the state's coffers, and as a legal status which allows the CCP to enjoy power without obligations. However, (genuine) political reform would topple the basics of China's ideology.

I believe that to stop Bo Xilai was probably something most standing committee members could agree to - on their own initiative, or with some pressure from a majority. But when it comes to reform, Wen Jiabao either doesn't mean real reform - even his most daring statements in 2010 weren't too specific -, or he's standing alone.

justrecently said...

I've done a search of He's comments of recent days, and tried to put them together here.