« Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Fools? (Yet Another Bush Budget Edition) | Main | Marginal Revolution Says It Will Stick Around for More than a Hand or Two »

April 25, 2005

Political Unreform in China

Philip Pan writes:

Hu Tightens Party's Grip On Power: More than two years after taking office amid uncertainty about his political views, Chinese President Hu Jintao is emerging as an unyielding leader determined to preserve the Communist Party's monopoly on power and willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties to do it.... There is a growing consensus inside and outside the government, however, that the 62-year-old former engineer believes the party should strengthen its rule by improving its traditional mechanisms of governance, not by introducing democratic reforms. Hu has placed particular emphasis on tightening the party's control over public opinion, presiding over a crackdown to restore discipline to state media and intimidate dissident intellectuals. He has also gone further than his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, by adopting new measures to regulate discussions on university Internet sites and the activities of nongovernmental organizations....

'He is the ultimate product of the system,' said one party academic with access to the leadership who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'He never studied overseas or had much contact with the outside world. He was educated by the system, spent his entire career in the system, and his values are the same as the system's.' Hu sealed his reputation after taking control of the military at a meeting of the party's ruling elite in September, a final step in his long climb to power. On the last day of the conclave, in his first major address to the 300-plus member Central Committee as the nation's undisputed new leader, Hu warned that 'hostile forces' were trying to undermine the party by 'using the banner of political reform to promote Western bourgeois parliamentary democracy, human rights and freedom of the press,' according to a person given excerpts of the speech. Hu said China's enemies had not abandoned their 'strategic plot to Westernize and split China.' He blamed the fall of the Soviet Union on policies of 'openness and pluralism' and on the efforts of 'international monopoly capital with the United States as its leader.' And in blunt language that party veterans said recalled Mao Zedong's destructive Cultural Revolution, he urged the leadership to be alert to the danger of subversive thinking. 'Don't provide a channel for incorrect ideological points of view,' the person who had read some of the speech quoted Hu as saying. 'When one appears, strike at it, and gain the initiative by subduing the enemy.'...

In a recent comment often cited as a clue to his thinking, Hu wrote in an instruction to propaganda officials that though the economic policies of communist allies Cuba and North Korea were flawed, their political policies were correct, according to a person who saw the instruction and others briefed on it. The remark, first reported by the Hong Kong magazine Open, stunned many in the party who consider the two countries repressive and isolated from the rest of the world.... 'Looking back at the policies of Jiang Zemin now, it wasn't so bad,' said Mao Yushi, an economist who has had a book banned by the government and who runs a private research institute that has not been able to renew its permit. 'We survived for 10 years under Jiang, but with Hu Jintao the authorities are trying to shut us down.'... Hopes that Hu might pursue political reform peaked in 2003 when he and Premier Wen Jiabao took the lead in reversing the party's cover-up of the deadly SARS outbreak, pledging greater accountability and transparency in government. Later, many blamed Jiang's lingering influence for Hu's failure to act on proposals to strengthen the judiciary, expand media freedoms and hold limited elections for party posts....

Hu has focused economic policy on shifting resources to the country's poorer interior and promoting what he calls a 'scientific development concept,' which officials have described as an attempt to balance economic growth with concerns about the environment, the welfare of rural farmers and workers, and a widening income gap. State media have trumpeted these policies, reinforcing Hu's image as a leader who is more concerned about those left behind by the country's reforms than his predecessor. But the shift has caused grumbling among business interests and party officials who advocate faster market reforms, said a party scholar....

Posted by DeLong at April 25, 2005 02:35 PM