By David Bandurski — As we approach the next lively session of the 17th CCP Central Committee — this will be the third plenum for any poor soul who’s counting — the process of “preparing public opinion,” or yulun zhunbei (舆论准备), has already begun. Preparing opinion for what, exactly? Well, that’s almost anyone’s guess. [Frontpage Image: Tiananmen Square photographed by Noneck available under Creative Commons license at Flickr].
But a major policy piece in yesterday’s edition of Beijing Daily, and splashed up at top Web portals and newspapers, gives readers a mouthful about political reform, or what is called in Chinese “political system reform,” or zhengzhi tizhi gaige (政治体制改革).
The Beijing Daily piece is written by Li Junru (李君如), the vice president of China’s Central Party School (CCPS), the top training facility for CCP leaders. Directly above Li at CCPS is newly-minted politburo standing committee member and probable Hu Jintao successor in 2012 Xi Jinping (习近平).
One of the CCP’s top academicians, Li Junru is generally seen as a proponent of ideas associated with President Hu Jintao. He has been an active voice in praising the policies of Hu, particularly efforts to promote “intra-party democracy,” or dangnei minzhu (党内民主).
Li’s central point in the Beijing Daily piece is to take issue with the notion that China’s reform up to now has been predominantly economic in nature, and that political reform has waited in the wings. Political reform, Li says, has always been an “integral part” of the overall reform process.
For the moment, we will spare readers an analysis of Li’s points — which again and again elicit the eye-rolling response, “Yes, but . . . ” — and offer the fullest translation we can of the text given time restrictions:
For many years now a certain kind of public opinion has held that reform in China began with economic reforms, that China’s reform has primarily consisted of reforms to the economic system, and that up to now perhaps no political reforms have taken place. This is a misunderstanding.
Everyone is concerned about China’s reform and opening, particularly about political reform (政治体制改革) and the building of democratic politics (民主政治建设), and this is a normal thing to see. Because as an integral part of our country’s overall reform, political reform must deepen along with economic and social development, and it must be steadily promoted as interest in political participation grows among the people. In fact, our party places great priority on this question. We needn’t look to the future, for it was raised at last year’s 17th National Congress that “people’s democracy is the life of socialism,” and the Second Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee said [back in February this year] that we “must lift up even higher the flag of people’s democracy.”
For many years now a certain kind of public opinion has held that reform in China began with economic reforms, that China’s reform has primarily consisted of reforms to the economic system, and that up to now perhaps no political reforms have taken place. This is a misunderstanding. Because the basic fact it fails to recognize is that the reason the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee [in 1978] could raise the task of reform was because that year’s debate over the standard for measuring the truth created an atmosphere of thought liberation and made possible the advancement of democratic politics (民主政治). One need only read Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s essay, “Looking Ahead with Emancipated Minds, a Practical and Realistic Mindset and a Sense of Solidarity,” to have a sense that from the very beginning China’s reforms happened as democratic politics was driven forward. Seeing as ours is a vast nation of more than a billion people, and our party has tens of millions of members, we can expect to have all kinds of opinions. And this determines that carrying out reform and opening and modernization in China without democracy is unfeasible, and not promoting democracy in an orderly manner is also unfeasible.
One important reason why people have had misimpressions about China’s political reform is that we have spent a lot of time researching Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s strategic thinking, but not enough time researching his tactical thinking about leading reforms. When we look at these 30 years of reform and opening we can see that our party has been both strategic and tactical in the process of promoting political reform.
Political reform in China has at least eight methods and characteristics, and these characteristics and methods have already brought profound changes to Chinese society over the last 30 years.
Looking at this from the vantage point of tactics and strategy, political reform in China has at least eight methods and characteristics that deserve our attention and priority:
The first is that [the party] has linked political reform and economic reform, using reforms to the economic system to advance [political reforms]. When the household responsibility system was instituted, for example, this dissolved the people’s communes that had been referred to as one of the “three red flags,” and this brought the set up of organs of political power at the township level – county-level people’s congresses were established, and delegates from the county level down were directly elected by citizens. In fact, over the last 30 years, every advance in economic reforms has been matched with a deepening of political reform, and this process has never halted. Institutional reforms that we have instituted more recently also have this character. This reform process within State Council institutions that people have termed “super-ministry reform” is a major move toward deepening reform of the administrative system; it is a necessary step in developing the socialist market economy, and it is also an integral part of the deepening of political reforms and an important aspect of the development of socialist democracy (社会主义民主). In particular, this [“super-ministry”] reform has great significance for changing the orientation of our government, in working toward a service-oriented, responsible and clean government under rule of law, and in bringing about a mechanism for the mutual checking and coordination of the powers of decision-making, administration and monitoring.
Second is the linking of democracy development and the building of rule of law, emphasizing that democracy must by systematized, have legal sanction and promote the running of state affairs according to the law. Addressing the “Cultural Revolution” mindset equating democracy with anarchy, and the tendency to periodic surges of populism, Deng Xiaoping emphasized early in the reform and opening process that democracy had to be systematized and have legal sanction. Over the past 30 years, we have amended and improved our Constitution, abolishing clauses and regulations that do not accord with the Constitution and the democratic spirit. We have laid out a whole series of laws and regulations, including a Criminal Law, a Civil Law, a Code of Criminal Procedure and a Law of Civil Procedure. We have, moreover, created a system of lawyers, and we have built a fair, efficient and authoritative judicial system, and have carried out judicial reforms with the goal of ensuring that judicial organs and prosecutorial organs carry out trial proceedings independently and in a fair manner as specified by law. A society with thousands of years of autocratic tradition is in the process of changing to a society under rule of law.
Third is the tying of political reform to the respect and protection of human rights, ensuring the whole society’s right to equal participation (平等参与) and right to equal development (平等发展). Ever since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CCP Central Committee [in 1978] we have been working to set things right, thoroughly correcting the trampling of human rights that has occurred in the past, and undertaking a large-scale rehabilitation of unjust cases. Since reform and opening was instituted, we have not only developed the economy, working hard to ensure citizens’ right to subsistence and right to development, but we have also permitted and supported citizens in taking part in various non-public sectors of the economy, affirming that the political identities of new social strata are “builders for the work of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” We instituted the personal identification system, permitting citizens to freely seek employment including in other domestic areas; we instituted an entry and exit system permitting citizens to go overseas to study or travel. In recent years we have taken further steps to build democratic mechanisms, diversify the forms of democracy, widen the channels for democracy, and have in accordance with the law promoted democratic elections, democratic decision-making, democratic governance and democratic monitoring, working hard to ensure the citizens’ right to know, right to participate, right to express and right to monitor (知情权、参与权、表达权、监督权). These reforms have safeguarded citizens’ human rights, and they have stirred up the vigor and vitality of Chinese society.
Fourth is the linking together of the development of democracy and rule of law and the improvement of grass-roots self-governing institutions, allowing the people to experience first-hand the material benefits of reform. Within China’s political system, the set-up in the countryside and in urban districts and enterprises of village committees, community committees, professional committees and other autonomous peoples’ organizations is a major distinguishing characteristic. Since the onset of the reform and opening policy, we have not only carried out direct elections for village committees and township reform experiments throughout the countryside, but we have also uniformly carried out systems of openness in government affairs and openness in village affairs. We have also made clear strides in the building of communities (社区建设). Moreover, the building of grassroots democracy is now linking up with the project of building a harmonious society, for which improvement of democracy is a focus, and this has found broad support among the masses.
Fifth is the linking together of governance by the ruling party according to the law and the principle of legal participation in the government affairs by parties not in power. Many people probably do not understand what it means that the China democracy parties (中国民主党派) participate in politics. Within our political system, while China’s eight democracy parties and federations of industry and commerce are not political parties, they are parties that participate in government affairs. There are four basic points to this process of participation: 1) participation in government, including serving in leadership positions within the national government; 2) participating in the deciding of state policies and principles and in negotiation for the selection of leaders; 3) participating in the management of state affairs; 4) participating in the formulation and implementation of national principles, policies, laws and regulations. This can be seen particularly in the degree of participation of democracy party delegates and non-party affiliated delegates in the people’s congress, the standing committee of the NPC and in special committees of the NPC. These [changes] were set down in the Central Committee’s 1989 document. Over the last several years, with the support of the ruling party, the role of participating parties in democratic politics in China has grown larger and larger.
“New headway with its Party building concept,” China Daily, November 7, 2007
Full text of Hu’s speech to the 17th National Congress, October 24, 2007
[Posted by David Bandurski, September 11, 2008, 4:20pm HK]