Addressing a meeting of senior Communist Party officials in Beijing last week, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized the need for China to open its political system and to ease any policy that “limits speech, information or choices.” Perhaps he hadn’t yet seen Beijing’s white paper, Building of Political Democracy in China, issued that same day. The document, a 74-page policy statement issued by the State Council’s Information Office, recognized that democracy is “the common desire of people all over the world.” But it also noted that, in China, democracy’s goal should be to ensure “that the party’s views become the will of the state.” Chinese political activists, encouraged by the government’s past support of village elections and its rhetoric supporting the rule of law, were unimpressed. “The government is under pressure to allow political reform, and the message it’s sending is, ‘You won’t get it,'” says Liu Junning, a liberal author in Beijing.
That China has ruled out even modest reforms is no real surprise. So why issue the document at all? “The target audience was not Chinese, but foreigners,” says a Western diplomat in Beijing.