Chinese leaders blind to benefits of constitution, law professor says

Beijing legal scholar says party's rulers fail to understand that the rule of law would help them run country more successfully

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 October, 2013, 5:38am

Abiding by the constitution would help the government rule the country more successfully, but many top leaders fail to see that, a prominent liberal scholar said yesterday.

He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, told the South China Morning Post there was a "huge gap" between officials' and intellectuals' understanding of constitutional rule.

"Maybe they don't have a deep understanding of what constitutional rule is. They're still endeavouring to maintain social stability by sacrificing people's freedom," He said during a visit to Hong Kong.

Constitutional rule - the restraint of government's power and the protection of citizens' rights - may look like it would weaken the Communist Party's authority, but it would actually help it rule better, he said.

"The leaders can't really comprehend how social stability, market economy, and the curbing of corruption is directly linked to the rule of law," he said. "Without press freedom and judicial independence, these problems cannot be resolved."

He, one of the mainland's best known "public intellectuals" whose microblog has more than a million followers, said the leaders relied on an outdated mode of thought and found it hard to change their model of governing.

"The doctrine of communism inevitably leads to slavery, because it takes away people's right to think and to express - and these problems have not been properly resolved," he said.

Liberal intellectuals initially had high hopes about President Xi Jinping after he made statements praising constitutional rule, but have been disappointed by the government's crackdown on activists.

But He said suppressing people who sought to protect their rights through the law would likely lead to violent conflicts, or even revolution.

"I hope the government can understand that [crackdowns] have the worst effect - making people lose hope in the government, [creating] a huge gap between people and their rulers," he said. "When the best people feel hopeless, then only one option remains: revolution.

"Of course I don't want [revolution] - if a society can choose peaceful means to reform, that's best. But sometimes it's difficult to make it go the way you want."

He believed the party should make gradual changes to reduce its interference in society, starting with the courts. The partition of the party and government should be clearer, he said. The government should loosen its grip on labour unions and other social organisations. It should not monopolise social resources and allow more press freedom.

"Leaders need to know how a normal society should be and I think it can be done, otherwise it's hopeless," he said.

He yesterday addressed about 1,500 students at Chinese University. Asked later on his view of the Occupy Central civil movement, He said the central government should reflect on why respected scholars, such as Chinese University sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man and Hong Kong University law scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting, felt there was no other avenue to fight for universal suffrage.

Suppressing democratic development in Hong Kong "would hurt the democratic future of the nation", he said.