Party can't stick to its present course

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2011, 12:00am


It is not surprising that the Chinese Communist Party, which marks its 90th anniversary today, prefers to highlight the last three decades of economic growth that have lifted hundreds of millions from poverty, created an ever more comfortable middle class and overseen the country's emergence as a leading player on the world stage. Other than uniting the nation and preserving its sovereignty, leading this revival has been the ruling party's major achievement, in sharp contrast to earlier decades of political turmoil and impoverishing economic mismanagement.

China's transformation from an agriculture-based economy to an industrial one that in terms of gross domestic product is now only second to the US, is a remarkable feat. The policies and management that ensured years of double-digit growth have changed cities and society, creating wealth where before there was little, putting futuristic buildings where drab, grey ones had stood and lifting hopes and aspirations.

While it must be remembered that millions of Chinese still live in poverty, it would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago that wealthy tourists from the mainland would be stripping luxury goods from boutique shelves all over the world. Despite predictions that it would become a casualty of this economic revolution, the party now boasts 80 million members, eight times as many as during founder and chairman Mao Zedong's heyday. It has overcome internal upheaval and economic crises to maintain its hold on power. This recent success does not mean the excesses of the past have been forgotten.

Millions of people died from famine caused by Mao's extremist policies during the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961. The decade-long Cultural Revolution from 1966 destroyed lives and values. Basic rights have been suppressed, at times brutally, as at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

In the past year, as leaders fall or come under threat in North Africa and the Middle East, the party has clamped down on any perceived threat to its dominance of all facets of life. However, the party now faces an even more challenging period.

Expectations are changing, especially among the middle class, who increasingly want a say in their future. Corruption remains rampant, pervasively so. There are many voices insisting the party cannot continue in its dictatorial manner and has to reform. It is edging forward, tentatively trying to usher in more openness and transparency. But it is not doing enough fast enough. There are those among its senior ranks who are content with circumstances as they are, but such thinking is wrong. China cannot move confidently forward by sticking to its present course.