“As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks”

Michael Wines has a solid look at the voices for change coming from inside the Party in the run-up to the Party Congress:

A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. The son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of the country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more.

Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February.

“Compare now to 1989; in ’89, the reformers had the upper hand,” said Mr. Zhang, a historian formerly associated with the government’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to the pro-democracy student protests that enjoyed the support of a number of important party leaders but were crushed in Tiananmen Square. “Twenty years later, the reformers have grown weaker. Now there are so many vested interests that they’ll be taken out if they touch anyone else’s interests.”

To Mr. Zhang and others, this is the conundrum of China’s rise: the autocracy that back-flipped on Marxist ideology to forge the world’s second-largest economy seems incapable of embracing political changes that actually could prolong its own survival.

Many who identify with the reform camp see change as inevitable anyway, but only, they say, because social upheaval will force it. In that view, discontent with growing inequality, corruption, pollution and other societal ills will inevitably lead to a more democratic society — or a sharp turn toward totalitarianism.

If peaceful change is to occur, Mr. Zhou and many others say, it must begin inside the Communist Party; the lesson of Tiananmen Square is that the leadership will not tolerate threats to its control. Many speak of a transformation along the lines of that in Taiwan, where authoritarian rulers peacefully gave way to direct elections in 1996, and helped spawn today’s robust democracy.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, China, Communist Party, political reform

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