Premier Wen calls for political reform, again

That’s right, he’s at it again. Using the opportunity afforded by a speech in a prominent international forum, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) is once again visiting his favorite theme — the urgent need for political reform in China. And once again, his remarks are fodder alike for sanguine optimists, grumbling pessimists and cautious skeptics. Is he serious? Is his making a cynical bid the cement his legacy as a moderate? Is he simply too beleaguered and too powerless to effect his ideas? Or does this prefigure some sort of real change?

It is a debate that has been repeated on each occasion over the past 18 months where Wen has stepped out to toll the bells of political change in the midst of what seems by all other measures a period of great internal political sensitivity for China.

Most notably it was just one year ago, in the period from August 20 and September 30, 2010, that Wen gave no less than seven important utterances on political reform in seven different contexts. For a book-length review of that extended event, discussion of which was mostly suppressed in China’s media, we recommend readers turn to CMP Director Qian Gang’s The Great Game of Political Reform: Wen Jiabao’s Wave of Seven Speeches on Political Reform (Cosmos Books, December 2010).

The full text of Wen Jiabao’s September 14 speech at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian is available at People’s Daily Online. What follows is our translation of his remarks on political reform, which were made in a closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon with Chinese CEOs and some Western businesspeople in attendance (thank you to Louisa Lim for that clarification). The Chinese original of our version was taken from the website of Caijing magazine on the evening of September 14.

For now, we’ll avoid parsing Wen’s remarks and leave judgment of their significance to our readers. However, readers of Chinese might want to turn to the comments section of this post at Sina Microblog, in which the Caijing coverage was shared with more than 2,000 users.

Wen Jiabao: China’s Future Political Reform Will Face 5 Major Challenges
September 14
Caijing Online

“This task [of reforming the Party and state leadership system] was raised by [Deng] Xiaoping 30 years ago, and I think that today it is especially pressing.” Chinese State Council Premier Wen Jiabao made the above remarks on the afternoon of September 14 at the meeting [of the World Economic Forum] being held in Dalian.

Wen Jiabao pointed out that in the future there would be 5 difficulties (难点) facing political reform in China:

1. Adhering to the governing of the nation by rule of law. The most important task of a ruling party is to act according to the constitution and the law, and strictly acting within the scope of the constitution and the law requires changing the situation of Party dominance of the government (以党代政), the absolutization of power (权力绝对化) and over-concentration of power. To this end, the Party and state leadership system must be reformed. This task was raised by [Deng] Xiaoping 30 years ago, and I think that today it is especially pressing.

2. We must advance social equity and justice. This requires that we develop the economy through reform, and change the [current] aspect of unequal allocation of income and a yawning [wealth] gap, allowing all people to live lives of dignity and enabling all to enjoy the fruits of reform and development. In a major country with a population of 1.3 billion people, I know only too well that there is still a large population of middle and low-income people, and even of those living in poverty. Social fairness directly concerns whether our political rule truly serves the people or not, and it also concerns sustainable economic development and the harmony and stability of society. To this end, we must prioritize work on two fronts: First, we must employ measures to accelerate the raising of the incomes of medium and low-income people, at the same time adjust the incomes of those in the high-income segment; Secondly, [we must] build and improve our social security system, including unemployment [benefits], pensions, healthcare and other social services, so that this becomes a social security system for the whole of society.

3. Preserving the fairness of the courts. [This means] ensuring that prosecuting organs (检察机关) and judicial organs (司法机关) have the independence they should have, and are not interfered with by any social group (社会团体), social organization (社会组织) or individual. The fairness of the legal system is a reflection of justice and fairness in a society, and we must fully embrace this direction. This is something that was raised 30 long years ago at the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the C.P.C., and we should put it into practice. [NOTE: This refers to the meeting of the Central Committee held from December 18-22, 1978. The session marked the start of China's opening and reform policy (改革开放). One important theme at the session was the criticism of Mao's cult of personality and the danger of over-concentration of power.]

4. Guaranteeing the democratic rights of the people. [We must] practically ensure the democratic rights and democratic benefits stipulated in the constitution, of these the most important being the right to vote [and stand] in elections (选举权), the right to know (知情权) [and be informed], the right to monitor [power] (监督权), and the right to participate [in public affairs] (参与权). I would like to talk especially about the right to vote. We must expand the forms of democracy, and we must cement self-rule by villagers. If the people can govern a village well, they can govern a township well, and even govern a county well. Right now some [local] areas are carrying out experiments in elections at the township level on the foundation of accumulated experience [in village-level elections]. I would also like to say that this issue of the expansion of democracy can happen first within the Party, and develop in a step-by-step manner from inside the Party to outside the Party. This is a rather secure and rather practical way [of approaching this issue].

5. [We must] resolutely oppose corruption. Fighting corruption and advocating honest and clean [governance] is a major task facing our governments at various levels. I believe the fight against corruption right now can be undertaken through the following several tasks. First, [we must] oppose the [crime] of duty encroachment [or taking advantage of one's position for personal gain]. [We must] strictly prevent leaders and cadres from using the convenience of their position to interfere in the bidding and tender process, seeking personal profit. This must become an important task in the [overall] fight against corruption in the economy. Second, [we must] gradually promote a property declaration system (财产申报制) and a public announcement system (公示制) [for making this information about officials public]. In recent years, we have already created a number of systems, including for [reporting of] leaders’ assets, the residency of their family members overseas and their engagement in business and trade. We must continue to improve these, gradually moving from declaration [of this information] to public sharing [of this information]. This is a most important form of supervision of the rights in the hands of cadres. Third is making a public account of the “three public” expenses (“三公”经费) in public financing [NOTE: These include 1. Expenses for overseas trips, ostensibly for government business but often for family vacations; 2. Expenses for food and entertainment; 3. Expenses for public vehicles, usually including luxury sedans, private drivers, gasoline and related expenses, including maintenance.] I have said before that if we take a look at the whole history of public finances, that is a very frightening history indeed, and it reflects the situation with respect to the allocation of the wealth of our society. We have started this year making public outlays for the “three public expenditures” at 98 [govenrment] departments, and this has been welcomed be the masses. But they feel this is still not enough. We must still expand the scope [of making public such figures] according to the need, and the information we release must be specific right down to the item. We must resolutely crack down on corruption, and we must severely punish acts of corruption and those guilt of acts of corruption according to the law, not being soft of hand.

[Frontpage Photo: Wen Jiabao at the World Economic Forum in Germany in 2009, available from the WEF at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.]

2 Comments to “Premier Wen calls for political reform, again”

  1. admin says:

    KelvinClone:

    I think you have a very valid point there . . . And this is something I’ve emphasized many times in the past — including over Wen Jiabao’s overtures on political reform. That is, that the political discourse itself is of great importance in China.

    From the outside it’s very easy to criticize Wen Jiabao for inaction, for “just talking” and not doing. But in China “just talking” about political reform can be a very difficult thing and its importance should not be underestimated.

    Best,
    David

  2. KelvinClone says:

    Well I think the contending views of this as an attempt to “cement his political legacy” or a substantive call for real reform are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Can he not advocate for reform while trying to cement his legacy? Maybe he realizes that it’s his last chance to stand before the bully pulpit, so he wants to go out with a bang and say what’s really on his mind while people will still listen.

    Obviously, he’s not going to be around long enough to see all (or any, for that matter) of this through, but at least you have to give the man kudos for putting the ideas out there once again. I think that when a leader in China calls attention to a politically sensitive issue by putting it on the agenda in a public way, it extends the boundaries of the dialogue, and it signals to the people that it’s safe to start discussing these issues, which is obviously a positive development.

Leave a Comment