“New Authoritarianism” The Path to Reform?

As part of its “Southern Legacy” coverage of the 20-year anniversary of ’s famous “southern tour,” a Monday Global Times opinion piece assesses the future direction of political reform in China:

Most intellectuals in China today are not the same as those radicals in 1989 who clamored for the adoption of a Western style political system, but instead fully recognize there is no prospect for China to copy a Western path. A “Jasmine revolution” could only drive China into chaos.

Most Chinese intellectuals and the majority of Chinese society don’t expect a Western style government at the current stage of development, but want stronger supervision on power through .

China’s development needs a new . The government has a firm foundation, and the new authoritarian politics should be strongly adapted to the times and have greater flexibility. They must better respond to social demands and institutional changes.

In the past 10 years, some have become rather frustrated by the stagnant process of reform. Some are calling for a second “southern tour” with the purpose to urge China to seek the direction of future reform, political reform in particular.

I entirely understand the public demand for this, but I am more hopeful to see institutional innovation created by the forthcoming 18th CPC National Congress, which will enhance the new authoritarianism and provide a stronger driving force for a democratic construction.

A Caixin editorial painted a less optimistic picture, declaring Deng’s reform movement “dead” and attempting to reposition the aim of reform in today’s China:

Reform’s objectives, targets, approaches and pathways have changed over the past 20 years. And today we have a fresh impetus for change: Reform is needed to prevent powerful interest groups from taking advantage and prospering by means of market distortion.

We can no longer expect a lone hero to ride to the rescue. A single tour by a dynamic leader cannot be expected to forge a new consensus by one of even several city tours. Rather, a consensus for action must come from party leaders that’s based on sound political judgment, genuine concern for society, and an accurate reading of the people’s will.

China is at a crossroads. Party leaders are being tested, and all of us are being challenged. There is broad agreement in society about the many problems China faces. There is also renewed determination to push for more reform, and supporters of this initiative are gathering strength.

But the urge for ongoing reform is running way ahead of action. We need the opposite. Like Deng on his tour, an exceptional leader must take a stand with a vision that’s ahead of the times, not behind, and lead China’s forward.

See also recent CDT coverage of Deng Xiaoping’s legacy.

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