Which way will Communist Party of China direct the country?

The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China took place from 15 to 21 October 2007.

Questions:

1. Is it possible to identify some surprising new trends in politics of China’s CP after the congress or the direction is clear toward the project of President Hu Jintao, who wants to build the harmonious society? And by the way what harmonious society means in your opinion?

2. Maybe a small surprise is the retirement of Vice Premier Wu Yi. Why she left the Politburo? According to Forbes she was the second most powerful woman in the world. Does it means something in China?

3. Is it possible to compare th political system in China with the political systems in the former socialist countries in Central/Eastern Europe? China is ruled by communists and the former Soviet bloc was also ruled by communists. What are the main differences?

4. Some people say the western type of democracy would be for China disaster. Do you agree or not and why? How will look the political system in China in foreseeable future?

5. Is China in some way dangerous for the West? Is it possible to do business with China and not to forget human rights?

Answers:

Lawrence C. Reardon, Associate Professor of Political Science, Coordinator, Asian Studies Minor, University of New Hampshire

1. The CCP under Hu Jintao is trying to achieve an “economically comfortable society” that develops in a “scientific” fashion that will produce a “harmonious” society. Hu Jintao is going beyond Jiang Zemin’s focus on economic development, and focusing on the welfare of the people…their access to health care, taxes, the environment, etc. There is an increasing concern of the welfare of the poorer people…those who have not benefited from the largess of the reforms. For instance, Hu has been calling for a new socialist countryside, in which policy benefits the farmers, agriculture sector, and the countryside (the sannong). This policy, which was first announced in 2006, harkens back not only to Mao’s concerns of the peasantry, but to centuries-old concern of the ruling elites that the people needed to eat and be provided with a basic livelihood. Contemporary protestors in the countryside and urban areas are not calling for the downfall of the communist state…they have been calling for basic rights to sustain life and economic justice. Hu’s emphasis thus focused on growth and socio-economic justice.

2. I haven’t followed this closely, but you might want to see how old she is…unless you are a key leader, you must retire at the mandatory age. However, it has long been an issue that the Chinese leadership does not have too many powerful women. But obviously, this isn’t the only country in the world where this phenomenon exists.

3.+4. While the Leninist party structure and economic development strategies-inwardly-oriented command economies that focused on import-substitution–were shared attributes, the basic political culture of Central/Eastern Europe and China is profoundly different. Central/Eastern Europe’s political culture has been influenced by both secular and religious leaders; their geographic location has made them both aware of and influenced by the major powers surrounding them. Sharing similar historical and philosophical traditions of Western Europe, these countries have been more ready to accept the tenets of democracy, individual rights, and the market economy.

The thinking of China’s rulers has been influenced by centuries of Confucian ideas of hegemonic rule; the legitimacy of the hegemon rests on his ability to maintain stability and economic prosperity. Increasingly, China’s leaders are influenced by their growing awareness of the outside world, but their political calculus is fairly domestically-oriented. Many Western observers suggest that the current popular unrest in China’s countryside is evidence of democratic “sprouts:” the people are increasingly realizing their individual rights, which has been hasten by the growth of civil society. These are the hallmarks of successful democratic development. While such catalysts might have been true in Eastern/Central Europe, it is not necessarily what is occurring in China today. Associations of business people are more proud of their connections with the party and the state, rather than see themselves as opposition to the state. Protests have not called for the downfall of the party or the state; even during the 6.4 movement (Tiananmen crisis), students sang the Internationale. While suppressing those protests, leaders have also responded to the protests by abolishing the agriculture tax in 2006 and strengthening property rights laws.

5. China is challenging the West by its mere size. While I personally don’t think that they want to establish a new Chinese empire, I do believe that they want prosperity for their people, which will continue to increase demands for all types of production inputs throughout the world—such as steel, oil, and other raw materials-as well as result in increasing transaction costs, such as to the environment.

Some argue that the more one trades with China, the more they will uphold human rights. Yet the question is: which definition of human rights? For China, human rights does not include democracy, but instead, it is the provision of a stable and economically healthy society. This is not a new issue: it has been raised by various leaders in Southeast Asia during the 1990s.

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