China: Party comes before democracy

Hosting President Bush on the weekend, Chinese leaders went along with his democracy rhetoric and even agreed to embark on a dialogue on human rights, but analysts say they have other ideas too.

Beijing’s overall aim, the analysts caution, remains the modernisation of the communist party and the upholding of its monopoly on political power, rather than the completion of a “journey towards greater freedom,’’ as suggested by Bush. Chinese leaders believe that maintaining strong economic growth, while improving the efficiency of the communist party, will retain the loyalty of the population in the face of tens of thousands of protests that have taken place across the country in recent months, many spa-rked by complaints about corruption and local abuse.

Beijing commissioned researchers from several academic bodies to study what communist ideologues here have termed as “democracy recession” or the ways political liberalisation and dem-ocracy undermine economic developments in a country. The research was undertaken after Bush unveiled his “democracy agenda”, in his speech for his second term in office, in January.

Chinese analysts insist that with China’s robust economic development and its emergence as a global player, US-China relationship has become so intertwined and complex that not a single issue, like democracy or human rights, can come to dominate or determine its overall course. Chinese President Hu Jintao was quick to fend off Bush’s demands for more rapid democratic reforms. During a speech made on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in South Korea, last week, he described his country as one that is still struggling to become a developed economy and also one that needs to observe its own pace and ways of liberalisation.

Since Bush unveiled the ‘democracy agenda’, Chinese communist leaders have made clear their intention not to pursue political changes that might reduce the power of the ruling communist party. In a white paper titled “The Building of Political Democracy in China”, released in October, the government defended the accomplishments of communist rule in bringing unity, stability and prosperity to the world’s most populous nation. But it also firmly rejected the idea that China might ever adopt the sort of multiparty democracy.

In recent months, Beijing has staunchly pursued means of bringing independent thinking and reporting under control. Chinese censors have tightened restrictions on Internet and local media. Beijing has also cracked down on NGOs, believed instrumental in carrying out popular uprisings in the former republics. The ministry of civil affairs has stopped processing registration applications for the launch of new civil groups, effectively putting a lid on expansion of civil society.

A decision by Hu to rehabilitate Hu Yaobang, a one-time reformist leader whose liberal polices resulted in his removal from office in 1987, was used as a carefully controlled occasion to increase the party’s popularity. Commemorations for the birth of the late party leader, whose death in 1989 helped precipitate the Tiananmen Square democracy protests, were carried out on November 18. The memorial was choreographed to associate the current party leaders with the late popular figure, while carefully drawing the line of not advocating his liberal policies. — IPS