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Speech Short on Reform Hope

July 10, 2011

2011-07-04

China's call for political change won't amount to much, experts say.

AFP

Hu Jintao speaks inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 1, 2011.

Recent rhetoric from China's leaders as the ruling Communist Party marks its 90th anniversary shows little hope for political change, in spite of references to reform, analysts said.

President Hu Jintao warned a packed conference of Party elders last week that the ruling party would have to uphold people's rights and fight corruption if it hoped to remain in power.

"Cracking down hard on and effectively preventing corruption is crucial in gaining popular support for the Party and ensuring its very survival," he said.

But while Hu called for further reform in China's economic, political and social systems, he added: "Looking back at China's development and progress over the past 90 years, we have naturally come to this basic conclusion: Success in China hinges on the Party."

Political commentator and blogger Zan Aizong said the mentions of reform were unlikely to yield any significant changes, however.

"When Hu Jintao ... and [premier] Wen Jiabao emphasize political reform, they are talking about small, internal reforms with the Communist Party," Zan said.

"They are minor changes to the Party's own way of working that are intended to boost its legitimacy," he said.

'Same basic principles'


Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, said he too saw little change in intent among the top Party leadership in Hu's July 1 speech, delivered on the 90th anniversary of the Party's founding.

"The same basic principles are being upheld, including the ... leadership of the Party and social harmony and stability," Li said.

"Everything he talks about is on that basis."

Li said the Party was so cautious about political changes that very few substantive reforms had been implemented in the past decade, in spite of frequent references to reform and warnings that the Party must serve the people and not alienate them through official abuse of power and corruption.

"We are still probably a long way from democratically-elected representatives or the participation of the public in politics," he said.

'Deterioration of freedom'

Far from allowing greater freedom of expression, the Chinese authorities have actually clamped down on freedom of speech in recent months, according to Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).

“The party’s efforts to present a festive image of national cohesion are designed to hide a disturbing deterioration in freedom of expression and information, especially during the last five months," the group said in a statement issued to coincide with Hu's speech.

Citing the cases of released dissidents Hu Jia and Ai Weiwei, who have been ordered not to give media interviews, RSF said the concept of the Chinese development model was "just a euphemism for a policy that puts all the emphasis on economic development and mocks fundamental freedoms."

It said an estimated 30 journalists and 75 netizens are currently detained in China, following a nationwide crackdown sparked by calls for nationwide protests inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.

'No breakthrough'

Li said he did not foresee any major changes as a result of Hu's speech.

"There will be no big breakthrough ... in China's political reforms," he said. "In America, all the candidates for all the political parties are having their say ahead of the 2012 elections, but you are unlikely to see that happening in China."

Meanwhile, Zan said the widespread problem of corruption would remain untackled under one-party rule, however, with only token political sacrifices to maintain the semblance of responsibility.

"This anti-corruption campaign can't possibly succeed," he said.

"China's ruling party is helpless against corruption ... because it doesn't rely on the rule of law."

Reported by RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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