Liang Jing: China’s Plight Seen From the Weng’an Incident

Overseas political commentator Liang Jing wrote folliwing essay, translated by David Kelly:

On the afternoon of June 28, a serious mass disturbance took place in Weng’an County, Guizhou Province. Tens of thousands of people attacked the county Public Security Bureau and government and Party buildings, setting government offices and vehicles ablaze. The supreme authorities of the CPC were clearly furious about the incident. This was not only because the anniversary of the founding of the CPC and the Beijing Olympics are imminent, but also at the fact that a disturbance could still take place in a most face-losing way, despite their claims to have taken all possible measures to avoid anything of the sort.

In recent months, the CPC has on the one hand intensified its persecution of various civil society organizations and their influential members, and on the other hand stepped up political pressure on officials at all levels to be “people-oriented,” more positive and proactive in solving the pressing interests of the people and easing social conflicts. The Party has also stepped up punishment to deter corrupt officials, formulating a five-year anti-corruption plan, and also investigating the big corrupt official Wang Yi and his deep political background. Wang served as secretary to Bo Yibo, and was for a long time on the Securities Regulation Commissions where he was responsible for approving corporate listings, a signal power figure in the CPC who despite his notoriety was untouchable. Ms Ye Tan dedicated a commentary[1] to arguing that the investigation of Wang is the most important event in China’s capital markets since the collapse of Delong.[2]

On 13 June, Hu Jintao held an extraordinary central meeting,[3] the gist of which was a warning to officials at all levels that China’s current political and economic situation was grim; officials at all levels had to “fully grasp the various factors influencing social stability, step up improving the system of mechanisms and policy measures maintaining social stability to ensure the overall social stability.”

Hu’s thinking is very clear: he is faithfully implementing Deng Xiaoping’s “two-handed tough” policy, on the one hand asking the government at all levels to crack down on anyone with the potential to challenge Communist Party authority, while on the other hand asking them to work hard in the public service. The problem with this seeming perfect principle is that it cannot be put into practice. Local governments will of course spare no effort in combating non-governmental organizations and civil leaders, but show little enthusiasm for easing the people’s worries and problems.

The Weng’an incident in Guizhou once again effectively proves that systematic attacks on and repression of civil society organizations and civil society leaders, is quite incapable of elimin ating all civil unrest, because its main source is the lawlessness of local government. Encour aging local governments to attack and suppress civil society organizations and civil society leaders, is in fact to give local government the status of being supported and having nothing to fear, making the people simply invisible to them. The arrogance of local governments intensifies many social contradictions that would basically not be difficult to resolve; meanwhile. in the absence of media tion of civil society organizations and civil leaders, popular dissatisfaction would be uncontrollable should it break out.

These truths are not hard to grasp, but why has Hu Jintao failed to get the point after so many years in power? Is it because he is too timid, and doesn’t dare do what he needs to do—or because he doesn’t know what to do? Asked this explicitly by an American scholar, I argued that, while both factors were involved, the most important one, I am afraid, is not that Hu does not know what to do. As observed by all, it is not goodwill Hu Jintao lacks, but the knowledge and ability that a political leader requires. He is unable to communicate effectively with his officials, and still less with the public.

On June 20, under huge domestic and external pressure, Hu Jintao hoping to prove his leadership ability for the first time had contacts with Chinese “netizens.” There was nothing substantive in these so-called Internet exchanges, but even so, it was suspected that the entire exchange was stage-managed by officials. Someone calling himself “Fine Rivers And Mountains, Pretty As A Picture” who asked Hu Jintao a question was very likely a CPC official, or indeed an internet spy. Such suspicions are entirely consistent with Hu Jintao’s constant “emperor’s new clothes” style.

The mass uprising in Weng’an, Guizhou will soon subside, but new and indeed greater disturbances and riots will occur. It is of course impossoble for such spontaneous riots, which can have no clear political objectives, to actually threaten the Communist Party rule, but they do highlight China’s current predicament: namely that the public cannot cope with the Party autocracy, while the Party cannot deal with the crisis. And a major reason the Party simply cannot deal with the ever deepening crisis is that it cannot do anything about its incompetent leadership.

_________Translator’s notes_________

[1] Ye Tan, “Wang Yi bei shuanggui shi Delong daotai hou ziben shichang zui da shi” [The investigation of Wang Yi is the most important event in capital markets since the collapse of Delong], [叶檀:王益被双规是德隆倒台后资本市场最大事] http://forex.hexun.com/2008-06-18/106772842.html.

[2] “Delong’s actions, dubbed by the online China Daily as the ‘largest financial crime’ in Chinese history, involved alleged stock manipulation by management. Delong executives were charged with utilizing company investments in both public and private companies to surreptitiously increase stock prices.” See Dennis Eucogco, “China Enacts New Governance Rules,” in RiskMetricsGroup, 21 February 2006, http://blog.riskmetrics.com/2006/02/china_enacts_new_governance_ru_1.html.

[3] “Yici quandang yiyi de ‘weiji jingshi’ dahui” [A ‘crisis alert’ conference affecting the party nationally], Nanfang zhoumo, 19 June 2008 [: “一次全党意义的’危机警示’大”, 南方周末,2008年6月 19日 (http://finance.ifeng.com/news/hgjj/200806/0619_2201_606139.shtml).]. Translation posted on Chinapol.

July 7, 2008 1:11 PM
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