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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

General and scholar test reform waters

August 13, 2010

By Wu Zhong, China Editor
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
August 11, 2010

HONG KONG - About two years before President Hu
Jintao and other top Chinese leaders retire from
office, there are growing public calls for them to start political reforms.

This time, the calls for democratization and the
rule of law are not being made by political
dissidents but by prominent figures from the
pro-establishment camp. This indicates that more
liberal-minded members within the establishment,
increasingly impatient with slow progress in
reforms, are worried that a failure to make
political changes that keep pace with economic
transformation will result in violent conflicts
within society and the ruin of all that has been
achieved in the past few decades.

Lieutenant General Liu Yazhou, political
commissar of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA)
University of National Defense, the training
school for PLA generals, boldly predicts that
China will have to replace its current
authoritarian political system with a democratic
one in the coming decade because there is no "way
of escape" for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
That was according to a media report on August 5.

Two days later, Hu Xingdou, an economics
professor with the Beijing Institute of
Technology (BIT) best known for his studies of
disadvantaged groups in China, publicized on his
website an open petition to President Hu Jintao,
entitled "China's Road To Ruin And The Way Out".
In the letter, he claims that the death of social
fairness and justice is putting China on a
perilous path. The only remedy is to launch
political reforms to truly give people back their
constitutional rights and freedoms.

Liu's prediction is contained in an article in
the latest issue of the Phoenix Weekly, a
publication of the pro-Beijing Phoenix TV based
in Hong Kong. Perhaps because of the boldness of
Liu's remarks on such a sensitive topic, the
article was published with an Editor's Note that
it was based on an exclusive interview with Liu
and published without him seeing the final version.

The article starts with Liu's harsh criticisms of
"money worship" prevailing in China. Liu says
that now the whole Chinese nation, from top to
bottom, worships the strength of money while
neglecting soft power such as culture and
ideology. "Having more money does not mean the
increase of soft power ... A nation that worships
the strength of money is a backward and foolish
one, both in terms of its internal governance and
international expansion," Liu said.

Internally, "corruption becomes China's largest
economic loss, largest social evil and largest
political challenge", the general said.
Internationally, money worship has badly damaged
China's image. For example, Liu said China's
investment mode in Africa is to bribe local
officials, and as a result, local officials'
appetite for bribes grows bigger and bigger while
ordinary Africans become increasingly averse to
the Chinese government and enterprises.

Without democracy, it is impossible for China to
continue on a long-lasting upward trajectory, Liu
said. "A system is bound to fall, if it fails to
let its citizens breathe freely and enable them
to maximally realize their creativity, and if it
fails to send those to the leadership who can
best represent this system and the people."

Taking the former Soviet Union as an example, Liu
pointed out that what caused the collapse of the
Soviet communist party was its system, not an
economic or military failure. In an apparent
allusion to current practices in China, Liu said
that the Soviet Union used to set the maintenance
of stability as its priority, "putting stability
above everything else and trying to use money to
solve all problems. But in the end [social]
conflicts intensified and things turned to their opposite."

In comparison, the very secret of the United
States' success lies in its long-lasting rule of
law and the system behind the rule of law, not in
Wall Street or Silicon Valley.

Therefore, according to Liu, China must change
its political system. "Restructuring our
political system is a task endowed to us by
history. There is no way of escape for us," Liu
said. He predicted that "within 10 years, a
transformation from an authoritarian political
system to a democratic one will inevitably take
place. Great changes will be witnessed in China."

The 57-year-old PLA general, son-in-law of late
president Li Xiannian and thus himself a
princeling, is widely seen as a rising political
star in the CCP and PLA but also a Young Turk
because his outspoken speeches and writings often
violate many taboos and restrictions. He is now
also a member of the CCP's Central Commission for
Disciplinary Inspection, China's top anti-graft watchdog.

Given his position and background, it is no
surprise that Liu's remarks on political reforms
immediately aroused feverish public attention.
The Phoenix Weekly article has so far been widely
reprinted or reported on and discussed on major Chinese websites.

Yang Hengjun, a popular blog writer, told
Deutsche Welle that "It is shocking for any other
PLA general to say such words. But I'm not
surprise that they were spoken by outspoken Liu
Yazhou, who said similar words before. Liu is a
person of conscience and foresight." In Yang's
view, Liu spoke out for many inside the CCP.
"Things can hardly go on in China as they are
today. The CCP can hardly continue its rule like
it does today. There must by changes, though
people may have different views on how to make changes."

Some political analysts in Beijing believe Liu's
remarks suggest the princelings and younger
elites in the party are eager to gain a greater
say in political affairs. They also hope
expression of liberal views may help them to win
greater popularity in the run-up to the 18th party congress in late 2012.

"The princelings, who think it is their destiny
to safeguard what their parents or grandparents
fought for, are worried that the CCP may lose its
legitimacy to rule if nothing is done to make
political progress. Also they certainly hope to
benefit more from the reshuffle [in] two years," one of them says.

But some netizens criticize Liu's view about the
success of the US. "His understanding that the
success of the US lies in its rule of law and
system [behind it] is superficial. One may ask
then, from where has the US derived its rule of law and system?"

Like Liu, Hu Xingdou is concerned with the
failure of the existing political system in
China. In his open petition to President Hu, he
said governance in China had yet to find the
"right track". In order to maintain stability and
safeguard their power and vested interests, many
local governments "make use of lies, violent
means, false charges, labor re-education, triad
societies, illegal prisons and lunatic asylums,
to detain journalists, informants and people who
hold different views," he wrote. As a result,
"[social] fairness and justice have already died.
This is the biggest failure of the governance of the current administration."

Hu Xingdou attributed the unfairness and
injustice to the existing system, featured in
"the integration between administration,
legislation, supervision and judiciary, the
integration between officials and business
people, and the integration between the party and
state." As a result, he said, China was on a road to ruin.

The way out is to build what he called
"constitutional socialism", making social justice
the very foundation of governance. "I advocate a
road of gradual reforms that are in accord with
China's own national conditions. I don't advocate
a road of totally Westernized liberty. I call it constitutional socialism."

In interviews with media after posting the
petition, Hu Xingdou elaborated on the concept
that constitutional socialism was the combination
of constitutional government with justice. In
short, socialism and CCP rule must abide by the
constitution. Coming down to details, in his
opinion people must be given back constitutional
rights and freedoms, such as the rights of
election and supervision of government, and the
freedom of speech and publication

Hu Xingdou said he advocated a road of gradual
change because many intellectuals agreed that
China must avoid another violent revolution. So
only a gradualist, evolutionary approach to push
forward social progress and development was in
the interests of the vast majority of the people.
And he made it clear that his approach was
pro-establishment: "After all, socialism is
acceptable to the ruling party. Therefore this
[my] proposal is one for moderate reforms."

Hu Xingdou said that while his open petition was
addressed to the president, he had also passed
copies to some top leaders through friends. It is
not important whether Hu Jintao responded, the
scholar said; what is important "is to wake up
the masses and cadres in the establishment so
that they will know the truth and understand how
to improve our nation and push forward social progress."

Analysts say it is probably no coincidence that
Liu Yazhou and Hu Xingdou make public appeals for
political reforms at about the same time. It is
likely that there is at present a debate at the
top, and the liberal camp wants its views
publicized to test reactions from within the party and the general public.
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