Xi Jinping

Chinese liberals cautious on hope for reform

Forum of intellectuals notes the new party leadership under Xi Jinping may want to liberalise but will face barriers under the one-party system

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 4:44am


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Liberal intellectuals on the mainland are cautiously optimistic about the new leadership but have reservations about how much progress can be expected under the current one-party regime.

Dozens of liberal party leaders, legal experts and professors gathered at a forum organised by political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu and Peking University two days after the closing of the 18th Communist Party congress to discuss political reform.

Reformist party veteran He Fang, who attended the forum, told the Sunday Morning Post he appreciated President Hu Jintao's decision to hand over the chairmanship of the party's military commission to new party chief Xi Jinping. He said Hu's retirement as party and military chief would enable the new generation of leaders to follow its own agenda.

"Now the new people can do their own things with free hands," said He, 90.

But He, an expert in Communist Party history who was castigated as a rightist by Mao Zedong in the 1950s, said he was not totally optimistic. "Nobody talks about democracy, the rule of law and constitutional democracy, so it's hard to guess" what the leaders want to do, he said.

Yanghuang Chunqiu's chief editor, Wu Si, said he found encouraging signs in Hu's work report, which set the direction for the country in the next five years.

The report said the party "must" operate within the constitution and the law and officials were "strictly forbidden" from using their powers to overrule the law, Wu said.

And while it said political reform should be undertaken under the party's leadership, it specifically mentioned twice that "people should be the masters".

"There are more emphases placed on these things than before and the message is a lot clearer," he said.

The report also said the representation of workers, peasants and intellectuals should be raised in the National People's Congress, while the proportion of officials should be reduced - in effect making it more like a real parliament - although it stopped short of giving a target percentage.

Wu noted that political reform had stalled for more than 20 years.

"Let's say the road to democracy and the rule of law is 100 miles - in the past we have walked just 10 miles," he said. "If the report's measures are implemented, that could add another 10 to 20 miles … that is better than nothing at all."

Zhang Lifan , a historian, noted that the word "people" came up frequently in Xi's first speech as Communist Party chief.

But Zhang said Xi, who will face tremendous obstacles in reform efforts, was only able to pledge to improve people's livelihood instead of promising democracy.

"I can't see what solution the new leaders could offer," Zhang said.

As popular anger over inequality, corruption and abuse of power continued to simmer, the leaders - whose interest above all is to maintain the party's survival - could hardly offer a way out, he said.

Scholars have warned that corruption is so deeply entrenched that reforms could cause the regime to collapse.

"There should still be opportunity to do something in the next five years, but I don't know whether history will still give them a chance," Zhang said.