Is Wen Jiabao Pushing the Envelope Again?

At China Real Time Report, Russell Leigh Moses tell us to “count on Premier Wen Jiabao to shake Chinese politics again.”

Wen and his associates cannot help but be concerned about what could turn out to be a lasting turn to the truncheon-wielders in Chinese politics. They may sense that the coming summer is the last, best chance for getting in front of this train and preventing hardliners from picking up any more speed before the change in Party leadership next year. The Wen wing of the Party may be in accord with others about major economic policies, tax cuts for the indigent, and efforts to use price controls to combat inflation. But there is growing distance between the view of Wen and his allies who think that society here is better managed softly, and the assessments of their political adversaries, who advocate a bit more manhandling, more directives and less dialogue. Wen may be gambling that the time for confrontation is now or never.

Wen also has to confront the fact that the political Left in China is rising, most notably in the person of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai. Whether it is cracking down on triads in the city or encouraging people to sing revolutionary melodies that extoll national greatness, Bo has become the leading advocate for ideological purity. He and his coterie represent the most direct threat to any hope of political reform; efforts by Party liberals to realize new standards of accountability and transparency in cadre ranks run up against the march of Bo’s morality machine. Wen’s people are trying to fight their corner by showing how the Premier’s speech contains the remedies (zh) for building a healthier Party, but with all eyes on Bo Xilai and his exhortations to the masses, it’s an uphill battle.

Where are Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping and their confederates in all of this? Right in the middle, trying to hold together an increasingly shaky center, preaching “socialist morality” (zh) some days and emphasizing “scientific development” the next. But the fact that Party regulars have to be reminded of the importance of the latter doctrine—the central slogan of the Hu tenure—shows just how rickety the balance of political forces is starting to get.

But Bill Bishop is sceptical about Wen’s supposed role as frustrated reformer:

Some China watchers seem to be engaged in a Chinese variant of “Where is Waldo?” that we might call “Where is China’s Gorbachev?”. But unlike Waldo, whom you can find if you look hard enough, it seems unlikely a Chinese Gorbachev exists, at least anywhere near the top echelons of China’s leadership. While undoubtedly there are leadership splits over some issues, reports about thwarted reform efforts led by Wen Jiabao appear misguided.

I suggest anyone interested this topic read these two essays from the latest issue of the China Leadership Monitor. Alice Miller, in Splits In The Politburo Leadership(PDF)?, and Joseph Fewsmith, in Political Reform Was Never On The Agenda (PDF), argue that much of the conventional “wisdom” on the current state of elite Chinese politics has been wrong.

Relevant extracts from the two papers can be found on Bishop’s Sinocism blog.

April 23, 2011 4:33 PM
Posted By:
Categories: Politics