Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Concerns about President Hu Jintao's Recent Speech

Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered a major address at the Central Party School in Beijing on June 25. It was attended by members of the Politburo, the Central Committee, leaders of the military and security services, representatives of all cities, provinces and regions and the heads of top government organizations. It was front page news on the June 26 People's Daily newspaper under the title: "Firmly and Steadfastly Follow the Path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Struggle to Achieve New Victories in Building a Basically Well-Off Society" (in Chinese: 坚定不移走中国特色社会主义伟大道路为夺取全面建设小康社会新胜利而奋斗). This speech presumably is intended to set the tone of the Party's 17th Congress coming up this fall.

After a careful reading of this long and comprehensive document, I came away with a sense of relative despair. The speech offers little hope that the pervasive problem of Communist Party officials placing serving the public good second to enriching themselves (and their cronies and families) will be effectively addressed in years ahead. The speech suggests to me that the Party cannot come up with any comprehensive policies beyond "more of the same." The speech makes promises (always short on specifics) similar to those that have not been fulfilled before; particularly the professed "unswerving" determination to somehow or other address official corruption which has been reiterated in speech after speech year after year . But the close collaboration of Communist Party officials with business people, sometimes with links to organized crime goes on unabated. The consequences: poor people forced out of their homes with little compensation often involving police intimidation and violence, child slavery in brick-making factories tolerated by officials in Shanxi with greased palms for years, deaths in coal mines where the Government inspectors were instructed to turn a blind eye, etc., etc., go on and on. Measures to encourage the development of a free and independent press and the development of a free and independent judiciary are really the only answer to this sort of thing, in my view. But President Hu's speech makes clear that Party control of the press and Party control of the judicial system will not be open to debate this fall.

Their is an increasingly awareness among ordinary citizens that their Government is not serving the interests of the people at large but rather primarily represents a hugely monied élite and an increasingly prosperous middle class co-opted by them. As the gap between rich and poor ever widens in China, class tensions grow. The Party's measures to respond to this are not proving adequate to the enormity of this issue.

I am increasingly concerned that the period after the 2008 Olympics may prove a "dangerous" one for the Party as ordinary Chinese people start to wonder "what next?"

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