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Party 'Fears Change From Within'

January 9, 2012


There is rising concern in Beijing over Western influence among officials.


Former president Jiang Zemin, right, chats with current president Hu Jintao, left, at the Great Hall of the People on Oct. 9, 2011.

This week's warning from President Hu Jintao that "hostile" powers are seeking to "Westernize" China has less to do with fears of Western culture than with a growing concern that many Chinese officials may be becoming more Western-minded, even within the ruling Communist Party, analysts said on Tuesday.

Published in the latest edition of Communist Party magazineQiushi, Hu's comments come amid a high-profile drive for China to boost its "soft power" abroad.

"Hostile international powers are strengthening their efforts to Westernize and divide us," Hu wrote in the article, noting "ideological and cultural fields" are their main targets.

"We must be aware of the seriousness and complexity of the struggles and take powerful measures to prevent and deal with them."

U.S.-based scholar Ran Bogong said Hu's article reflects a growing concern in the top echelons of leadership in Beijing.

"It's not just Hu Jintao, but most high-ranking leaders in the Chinese Communist Party who are ideological, who are very worried about Western, but especially the U.S., influence on China," Ran said.

He said the fears have little to do with current issues affecting the bilateral relationship, like the undervaluation of China's yuan currency, or trade or political disputes.

"This is a long-running conflict, and it's a very serious issue for them," Ran said.

He said 30 years of rapid economic growth in the reform era have led to an inevitable openness to the West, one which had been fraught with exploitation and national humiliation the last time it occurred, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"With the opening up of the economy, educational, cultural, and tourism links, Western influence on Chinese culture has been unavoidable," he said.

"This Western influence on the entire culture will also influence Chinese politics. That, too, is inevitable," he said.

Overseas education

Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma said the influence of the West on China's leaders is plain for all to see, with many children of officials at all levels studying overseas, and many holding foreign passports.

"We have seen [former president] Jiang Zemin sending his children to study in the U.S., and even learning English," Li said. "This proves that they know that there are some things about the West that are better than in China."

"But of course from a policy perspective, they have to choose a road that isn't exactly the same as that of the West."

Li said Hu's New Year address typically sets the political tone for the year to come, which in 2012 will see a key leadership succession at the 18th Congress of China's ruling Communist Party.

He said the article is unlikely to result in concrete action by the government.

"He is setting out a clear standpoint in terms of ideology," Li said. "For them, Westernization of ideology at home is a greater threat than overseas propaganda efforts."

He said Western ideas of governance may also have begun to sink into the Party itself, not just its critics.

"This is quite a big danger," Li said. "[Hu] is boosting the state of alert for the penetration of Western values and political views, and drawing a clear line for people."

Since the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Marxism has lost its status as the chief ideological currency of Party members, Li said.

"There are very few people [in today's Chinese Communist Party] who believe that Marxism can conquer everything ... They know its time has passed, but they can't just slavishly copy the West."

'Main culprits'

Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper reported on Tuesday that China's leaders now have microblogs firmly in their sights as the "main culprits" in promoting unrest.

By contrast, many high-ranking leaders now believe that it is now important to co-opt many nongovernment and civil organizations, which could be integrated into the Party's United Front campaign.

But Li said this is unlikely to take the form of a relaxed environment for NGOs.

"There are seven items in the latest regulations put out by the civil affairs ministry regarding civil groups and NGOs, and each one imposes more than a dozen concrete requirements," he said.

"There are a huge number of rules here, so I don't think you can say that there has been any change, just a few adjustments to policy."

He said he has also seen evidence of a fundamentalist return to traditional Chinese cultural values among official ideologues.

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

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