Optimistic reports of slow but steady progress towards democratic governance in China are, in the main, based on self-serving analysis or outright wishful thinking. One "proof" usually offered of China's democratization is the decision in 2002 by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to include businessmen into its ranks. What that has accomplished according to a New York Times report on the 16th Party Congress in Beijing by Joseph Kahn has been "to transform the world's last major left-wing dictatorship into the world's last major right-wing dictatorship" (1). Furthermore, what many reports failed to point out was that nearly all the leading financial, business and industrial figures in China were invariably the close relatives, sons, daughters, nephews, wives, etc., of China's highest-ranking Communist Party officials.
The New York Times also printed an Op-Ed on the 16th Congress by Bao Tong, the highest party official imprisoned for opposing the Tiananmen Square crackdown now released but living under constant police surveillance. Mr. Tong declared that it would be "irrational" to think that China was moving in the direction of democracy. He asks: "What difference does it make if older authoritarians are replaced by younger, technically trained or even capitalist authoritarians? Not much" (2).
Jasper Becker, the Beijing Bureau chief of the South China Morning Post has published a detailed analysis of China's political metamorphosis in a recent article (3). This is his theory on the genesis of the transformation: "Realizing that the demise of communism deprived the CCP of an ideology and a reason to exist, Jiang (Zemin), Hu (Jintao), and their peers are quietly remaking China into a fascist state bearing a striking resemblance to its '20s predecessors... the kind of highly nationalistic right-wing dictatorship that emerged in the '20's and 30's in Germany, Spain, Japan, Romania, and most notably Italy. Since at least the late '80s CCP leaders have instituted economic programs recalling fascist ideas of "planned capitalism." To complement its economic policies, the CCP has developed a neo-fascist political program of mass rallies, nationalist indoctrination, and party control over private lives."
Whether change from Communism to Fascism can be regarded as an improvement is, of course, a matter of one's political inclination, but it certainly cannot be considered a step towards democracy. China has not met even the minimum of requirements to qualify for acceptance as a democracy, even on the somewhat dubious level of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, which has a parliament and an opposition party, though a much harried one. There is a bottom line in these things as Jasper Becker points out: "China is now one of the last countries in the world without a functioning parliament. The National People's Congress does exist but it has no building of its own, no permanent staff or offices, and it assembles for just ten days a year. During the rest of the rest of the year only members of the Standing Committee, which is made up entirely of senior Party officials, meet" (4).
Even the uncomplimentary label of "debating society" usually attached to toothless assemblies or powerless political organizations, cannot be applied to China's Congress, as no debates of any kind are tolerated from the members of that body. A Western correspondent at the Party Congress reported that the discussions sounded like recitations and the main speech of the president "was notable mostly for its vagueness." He mentioned further that "...the 2,114 people chosen to decide the party's future at this congress are not debating those issues (who's going to rule). Instead, they met this weekend in small groups, sat in places assigned to them based on rank, and read from reports that expressed fealty to senior party leaders"(5).
A clear indication of China's steady regression into anti-democratic authoritarianism is evident in its step-by-step campaign to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy and democracy that was guaranteed in the Joint Declaration by Britain and China in 1984. Beijing has not hesitated to resort to the tactics of the Cultural Revolution in denouncing democracy advocates in the territory as "clowns" and "traitors"(6). Over the years, journalists, radio talk-show hosts and other voices of democracy in Hong Kong have been systematically harassed and intimidated with threats of violence and death-threats in an increasingly "suffocating" political atmosphere. Finally on April 26, 2004, Beijing came out openly and declared the barring of popular elections for Hong Kong's chief executive in 2007, and ruled out any expanded use of democratic voting for the legislature in 2008. Flatly rejecting complaints by British and U.S. governments, Beijing backed up its decision with the first military show of force since the territory's transfer to China by Britain in 1997. On May 5th a flotilla of eight Chinese warships: two guided missile destroyers, four guided missiles frigates and two submarines sailed slowly down Victoria harbor, choosing the most visible route across the entire length of the harbor (7).
For those not persuaded by the kind of analysis presented above, here it is straight from the horse's mouth. On 14 September 2004, in an important speech to the nation (carried on nationwide TV), president Hu Jintao, categorically rejected democracy for China (8). And we shouldn't forget that this isn't the first time Chinese leaders have been so forthright about their rejection of democracy. In December 1998, President Jiang Zemin made a clear categorical declaration to the entire nation that China would never tread the path to democracy. To drive home the point as it were, he repeated it a couple of day later, vowing, in addition, that China would crush any challenge to Communist Party monopoly on power.
How much more emphatic do Chinese leaders have to be for us to give up our illusions that China will soon become a democracy and that it will then grant Tibet the "genuine" autonomy the Dalai Lama has been asking.
1. Joseph Kahn, "China's Congress of Crony Capitalists", The New York Times, November 19, 2002.
2. Bao Tong, "Faking Reforms at the Communist Party Congress", The New York Times, November 23, 2002.
3. Jasper Becker, "Mussolini Redux", The New Republic Online, June 23, 2003.
4. Jasper Becker, The Chinese, Free Press, 2000.
5. Joseph Kahn, "At Chinese Congress, Little Debate But Lots of Picture-Taking", The New York Times, November 11, 2002.
6. Keith Bradsher, "Hong Kong Protesters Say China Is Trying to Stifle Democracy", The New York Times, April 2, 2004.
7. Keith Bradsher, "Flotilla Is Beijing's Message To an Unsettled Hong Kong," the New York Times, May 6, 2004.
8. BBC News "Hu rejects China political reform" 2004/09/15)
(This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Buying the Dragon's Teeth: How Your Money Empowers a Cruel and Dangerous Communist Regime in China and Undermines Jobs, Industries and Freedoms Back Home, High Asia Press, New York. The book will be released in New York on 25th October, 2004.