Senior Party Official: Democracy in China by 2020

Senior Chinese Communist Party official Zhou Tianyong‘s prediction that “by 2020, China will basically finish its political and institutional reforms” appears to signal the Party’s willingness to reopen discussion about .  From the Telegraph:

[Zhou] added: “We have a 12-year plan to establish a democratic platform. There will be public democratic involvement at all government levels.”

Mr Zhou also predicted “extensive public participation in policy-making, such as drawing up new legislation”.

[…]Mr Zhou added that civil society in China would also play an important role. “There will be many more non-governmental organisations, chambers of commerce, industry associations and other social groups. Religion should also be given a wider platform to play a positive role. We should protect religious freedom,” he said.

According to another Telegraph article, Zhou produced a report in February which warned that failure to enact political reforms could lead to social instability and economic stagnation:

A plan produced by Mr Zhou in February, entitled “Storming the Fortress”, suggested that China could face social and economic instability if the Communist Party did not curb its power and acknowledge a desire for . “Citizens’ steadily rising democratic consciousness and the grave corruption in the Party make it increasingly urgent to press ahead with demands for political system reform. The backwardness of the political system is affecting economic development,” wrote Mr Zhou.

However, Zhou’s democratic vision does not seem to include popular sovereignty or an end to the Communist one-party state:

Rana Mitter, a professor of the politics of Modern China at Oxford University, said: “[…]It also depends on how you define democracy. We all understand democracy as a multi-party system, but in China there has been a definition of democracy since Mao’s time as popular participation, but not necessarily with the right to change the government.”

[…]Asked if the government actually had any intention of relinquishing power, Mr Zhou said: “Don’t underestimate how far the Party has come. The Party still has effective leadership and is committed to further reform.”

This Xinhua report describes the spirit and purpose of the democratic reforms which Zhou advocates as closer to the Maoist mass line than to the Western notion of ‘democracy’.

China will work diligently to maintain an effective and smooth communication channel with citizens who want to submit complaints, a senior Party official said here on Tuesday.

In the past nine months, asked by the central government, senior officials of the city, county and district governments met with ordinary citizens in person regularly, listening to their requests and complaints and helping solve their problems. They also paid more frequent visits to grassroots people.

“Their work eased serious problems that were closely related to people’s interests and threatened social stability,” Zhou said. “Their visits at grassroots levels contributed to the implementation and improvement of central government policies.

Zhou’s statements come at a time when Chinese AIDS and democracy activist Hu Jia remains jailed and his wife Zeng Jinyan under practical house arrest.

Read more about the debate on democracy in China here on CDT.

October 14, 2008, 8:46 PM
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