China's top graft-buster breaks taboo by discussing Communist Party's 'legitimacy'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 September, 2015, 9:23pm

Open discussion by top graft-buster Wang Qishan about the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party - a topic long deemed unquestionable - has raised the eyebrows of some commentators.

"The legitimacy of the Communist Party of China derives from history, and depends on whether it is supported by the will of the people; it is the people's choice," Wang said when meeting some 60 overseas attendants of the Party and World Dialogue 2015 in Beijing on Wednesday.

Analysts said the aberration was a step forward but some disagreed with Wang's interpretation of "legitimacy".

READ MORE: China’s main fear is threat to power from corruption crisis, says senior Communist Party official

Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based commentator, said Wang's remarks reflected a shift of attitude in the party as a result of intensified social conflicts and increasing pressure from an underperforming economy.

"In the past, the issue was not allowed to be discussed, because the [party] thinks [its rule] is justified unquestionably. As the old saying goes, 'political power grows out of the barrel of a gun'. They fought their way into the ruling position, instead of being elected into it," Zhang said.

[The Communist Party's] legitimacy was maintained by relying on economic growth, but now economic growth is facing problems
Zhang Lifan, commentator

"Its legitimacy was maintained by relying on economic growth, but now economic growth is facing problems. In the past people thought [the party] could continue governing and did not have strong opposition to it because they still had money in their pocket. Now the size of their pockets have shrunk," he said.

Zhang Ming , a political scientist with Renmin University, applauded Wang's courage, but disagreed with his use of "legitimacy". "You can't talk about legitimacy merely from a historical perspective. How to let the people express their approval or disapproval [of the government]? The ballots are the most obvious way," he said.

Steve Tsang, a senior fellow at the China Policy Institute of the University of Nottingham, said the "legitimacy" Wang mentioned did not mean democratic accountability.

"The will of the people, in China's political reality, is collected and reorganised into something in line with what the party wants," he said.

"Then [it] uses the powerful propaganda machinery to ensure the people embrace the newly reformulated views as their own."