I accept the argument for gradual political reform. The CCP bears substantial historical burdens, and citizens must become more mature and engaged, and if political reform leapt straight to core changes to the system, this might be too hasty. Working toward the development of civil society, and protecting the basic rights of citizens, might be an effective way to move forward in a steady manner. But senior leaders in the CCP remain coy about civil society development. The term “civil society” is not a sensitive one in China, and party theorists have generally treated it as a positive factor, and sometimes even actively advocated it. Strangely, though, party leaders have never used the term in speeches or official documents.
If NGOs are cravenly obedient, they might continue in China without incident. But if, like Gongmeng, they work determinedly toward democracy, rule of law and social justice, making their presence felt in major legal cases, they will find opposition from the authorities.
Steadily through the years news has emerged from the mainland about NGOs being harassed and shut down. They have pressed ahead through a political minefield, one terrible explosion following another. In this sense, actions against NGOs have been unexceptional occurrences. But the Gongmeng affair has andcome at time when we are again hearing language from the leadership about stability being the overriding priority, and we must therefore pay close attention.
It is chilling indeed to see an NGO to be targeted in such a way. The party now seems to regard even the most moderate forces of change as a scourge on its leadership. And the only explanation for this can be that hardline, extreme elements within the party are making their influence felt. These are dangerous signs!