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US Dispatches from Beijing 'True Democracy' Within China's Politburo?

December 6, 2010

SPIEGEL ONLINE 12/05/2010 02:44 PM

Can one find democracy in China? According to a US source in Beijing,
the country's Politburo is more interested in consensus than decrees
-- on all issues except for Tibet. But, US diplomats allege, most of
the country's top functionaries maintain close ties with various
industries.

Is there any place in dictatorial China where votes are taken and
discussions held -- rather than orders given and decrees issued?
Indeed there is. And it is where one would least expect it: In the
heart of Chinese power.

If one is to believe US diplomatic sources in Beijing, "true
democracy" prevails in the Politburo of all places, within that
little-known group of top apparatchiks consisting of 24 men and one
woman.

No one outside China's ruling cadre knows who at the top of China's
power structure decides what and why. No one knows who thinks what,
who is allied with whom and who really has influence. Public debates
are rare. But by talking to leading functionaries, experts from the US
Embassy in Beijing managed to get a glimpse inside of China's inner
circle.

The newly revealed US embassy dispatches provide surprising details.
Hardly any decisions, no matter how sensitive they might be, are
decreed by head of state Hu Jintao or head of government Wen Jiabao.
Decisions instead tend to be taken collectively by top Communist party
functionaries. When vital policy issues, such as relations with Taiwan
or North Korea, are up for decision, all 25 Politburo members are
involved. Lesser issues are resolved by the nine-member standing
committee.

'A Consensus System'

The committee, though, does not decide by vote, according to cables
sent from US diplomats back to Washington. Instead, issues are weighed
and discusses for as long as it takes to arrive at a consensus. In the
decision making process, to be sure, Hu Jintao's "views carry the
greatest weight," US diplomats quote a source with access to the inner
power circle as saying. "It is a consensus system," the source said,
"in which members can exercise veto power."

It is a system that ensures that none of the Communist party
functionaries becomes too powerful. But it is a principle, US
diplomats have been told, that doesn't apply to one particularly
touchy issue: that of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. On that subject,
China's president and Communist party head Hu Jintao "is firmly in
charge."

In his eyes, the Dalai Lama is a traitor and a separatist. Rebels are
to be severely punished or re-educated -- a view that Hu himself
applied during his time as Communist party chief in Tibet from 1988 to
1992. Those who would prefer a milder approach risk their careers, US
diplomats have been told.

On other issues, however, informants told American diplomats that
Chinese leaders were often left to pursue their own interests.
Politburo member Zhou Yongkang, who heads up Chinese security
services, is said to be closely linked with the state oil industry,
for example. Jia Qinglin, in slot four of the Chinese leadership
hierarchy, allegedly maintains close contacts with Peking's
construction industry. Hu Jintao's son-in-law was the boss of the big
internet firm sina.com. Once source claimed that Wen Jiabao's wife
controlled the precious gems industry.

In addition, many of the 25 Politburo members are thought to maintain
"close ties" to real estate magnates, many of whom are likewise party
functionaries. Posts within the Chinese Communist party, US diplomats
believe, sometimes go to the highest bidder. In order to turn a quick
profit, such functionaries, sources told the US, are especially eager
to push for economic growth, no matter what the environmental or
social price might be.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,732963,00.html
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