Skip to comments.China power struggles: Resisting reforms
Posted on 07/15/2004 7:57:00 AM PDT by Dr. Marten
China power struggles: Resisting reforms
By Tian Jing and Wang Chu
HONG KONG - Chinese themselves and China watchers sometimes refer to it as "wrestling", but it's just a plain old, age-old struggle for power. In this case it's the ongoing match between reformist President Hu Jintao along with his ally Premier Wen Jiabao vs their intransigent rival, conservative former president Jiang Zemin and his Shanghai Clique.
Hu and Wen are trying to push through - and, more difficult, implement - Communist Party reforms that ensure more intra-party discipline, democracy, accountability, transparency and the rule of law. They also are pressing further economic reforms that emphasize slower rational growth, not unbridled economic expansion that lines the pockets of vested interests. Asia Times Online has learned that the so-called Shanghai Clique, the forces loyal to Jiang Zemin, now chairman of the party's powerful Central Military Commission (China's commander in chief), are obstructing the Communist Party reforms. Some provincial and local officials also resist the economic reforms, though even Jiang agrees with the need for basic economic slowdown reforms.
The issues are good governance, the welfare of all the people, the rule of law and the principle that no one, not even powerful figures in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), are above the law. A very tall order in a nation where party officials are often all-powerful and reap political and economic benefits from their party positions and dispensation of favors, permits, tax exemptions, and so on. Too much intra-party discipline could really spoil the party.
And this is likely to be played out further, and vigorously, in about three months, when the party convenes its 16th CCP National Congress to put its stamp on further reform and changes in the party leadership.
President Hu and Premier Wen, however, recently won editorial support for their existing and further reforms from the CCP's paramount mouthpiece, the People's Daily.
In its editorial on Monday, the People's Daily asserted that the political reform within the party in China has now reached a critical stage that allows no retreat at all. It cautioned that the Communist Party, as the helmsman for the country and reform, should consistently push through the reforms and under no circumstance should it halt efforts to improve its work.
Decisive party congress just three months off
As the fourth plenary session of the 16th CCP National Congress - which will decide the future road to reform and reshuffle the top echelon in Beijing - is now less than 100 days off, some regard this editorial as a challenge from the pro-reform camp of Hu to his predecessor Jiang Zemin. Jiang is a conservative and the commander in chief in a nation where military rank is of great importance.
With more than 7,000 words, the editorial explains from various perspectives why China must further pursue its reform policy in the party and the economy, or it could easily slip into a standstill or even the recession that some Latin American countries experienced in the 1990s. The editorial issues solemn warnings to those obstinate opponents of reform that "the people should ensure stability as a principle of overriding importance, take into consideration the situation as a whole and accommodate the larger interest". Coded, but clear to those who read between the lines.
Political pundits say the timing of this editorial - released less than three months before the party plenum - does reflect the divergence among Beijing's top echelon on the pace and probably the content of reform. What is more, this is the second time when the authorities vowed to "ensure stability as a principle of overriding importance". The previous time Beijing made the same appeal was in 1989 when the party remained divided on how to deal with the pro-democratic movement led by students. In the end, party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, sympathetic toward those students, was kicked out of the top leadership and kept under house arrest for more than 10 years. As a result of a careful reading of the editorial, some believe that internal wrestling inside Zhongnanhai, Beijing's power center, has been recently intensified.
The editorial opens by vowing that reform in China has reached a critical juncture, marked by the new income threshold of US$1,000 gross domestic product per capita. Such a figure shows that China's economy has entered a completely new stage when consumption is no longer centered on clothing or food - basic necessities, it said. However, this new period also poses new challenges and problems, according to the commentary, and the authorities must handle them correctly or the economy will in turn suffer setbacks, as demonstrated by some Latin American countries in 1990s.
Significantly, the article acknowledges there may be some forces opposed to the ongoing reforms: the further the reforms are enforced, the more opposition they will encounter, it says. All communists must realize that they will have to adapt and make changes if required by the situation. If timely adjustments are not made, there will be more losses, it warns. Communists must hold on to the party's principles, which should be preserved and revered. If they are changed, the communist cause will be greatly undermined.
Experts on Chinese affairs indicate that the so-called Shanghai Clique led by Jiang holds divergent opinions on political reforms from those of Hu. Some of the macroeconomic control measures introduced by Hu's ally Wen to rein in the red-hot economy are defied by Jiang's in-group at local government levels. Many Jiang supporters are well-off party bureaucrats who seek to exaggerate their achievements, cover up their faults and line their pockets, many valuing big-scale window-dressing projects and the number and size of new investments - instead of rational, slower economic growth and the welfare of all the people, not just some.
Wen's measures will certainly compromise the vested interests of the pro-Jiang clique. In addition, the 2003 audit report on the performance of 55 central departments, which was released by the National Audit Office in late June, also found that many of Jiang's domains and areas of influence were implicated in serious breaches of duty and possible corruption-related offenses. Nonetheless, none of the accused departments has ever responded to the criticisms or as yet been held accountable.
Party discipline could spoil the party
Concerning intra-party discipline, since early this year, the party leaders in Beijing have tried to reinforce the rule of law, including passing the Intra-Party Supervision Regulation (IPSR) and Administrative License Law (ALL) - resisted, passive aggressively, some might say - by Jiang and his supporters, who see their political power and economic interests threatened.
The dual ordinances have encountered passive but determined resistance from local governments, Asia Times Online has learned. Back in January, Premier Wen urged the Chinese Civil Service to embrace the fresh policies of accountability, transparency and reporting within the party - and economic reforms besides. Some local authorities, however, dragged their feet and impeded the necessary implementation, leaving some government functions on the verge of paralysis. This especially concerns national laws that need to be implemented on local levels and local laws that need to be changed to accord with national standards.
For a long time, Hu has been looking forward to better administration of the government at all levels. According to the official media, "better administration" will be on the agenda for the party congress to be held this autumn. Yet Hu's administration is now confronted with difficulties to strengthen the rule of law, as exemplified by the problems in implementing the IPSR and the ALL.
Taking effect from July 1, ALL normalizes the scope and the principles of granting administrative approval. Yet local authorities suggest that some existing bylaws will have to be annulled pursuant to the ALL, and therefore a legislative vacuum is likely. For instance, the qualification needed for a kindergarten headmaster used to be granted by local bureaus of education, but now the occupation no longer demands license from the government according to ALL. So how to ensure the qualification of a kindergarten headmaster will be a genuine problem.
For another, the Guangzhou municipal government issued a standard regulating the exhaust-pollutant emissions of small autos, which came into effect July 1. It too has been abolished by the ALL. As early as January, Wen urged all local governments to speed up amending the relevant bylaws, but the Guangzhou government has not yet completed its revision of the anti-pollution regulation to fill in void left by the abolished exhaust-emission law.
Big potential for big resistance
Premier Wen voiced his staunch support of the Administrative License Law at an ALL reinforcement work conference on January 6. ALL is an important umbrella regulation to regularize governmental activities, and strict implementation of ALL is a major responsibility of governments in order to rationalize government functions, he said. The conference was also attended by high-ranking officials, including four vice premiers. The grand lineup did not only display Beijing's resolution to carry out the new law - but also the great potential for resistance in practice.
As for Intra-Party Supervision Regulation - one that really worries some party officials - some experts who participated in discussion and drafting believe some local authorities have incomplete or mistaken knowledge of the regulation. China's official Outlook Weekly cites Professor Ye Duchu as saying some local governments have not grasped the essence of the supervision regulation, while some others misunderstand it. For instance, Clause 16 of IPSR says that CCP committees and discipline inspection committees at all levels should report related policies and the situation to the party congress at the same level during its adjournment. Some follow the rule, but some do not, considering that they are not standing committees. The idea of reporting to others, accountability, is not ingrained in many party officials.
Ye explains that the 16th CCP representatives are not permanent, but they should debrief on all important reports. The IPSR does not hold the standing-committee system as the precondition for making reports to representatives, and reporting to representatives is necessary and crucial to keep in touch with the party and people at all levels, he said.
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