John Pomfret, possibly the best foreign correspondent in China, has filed a bombshell story that tells us all just how sincere the Chinese Communist Party is about political/intellectual reforms in China.
I’ve been saying for months that the alleged “reforms” were all smoke and mirrors. It certainly looks like that’s the case:
After several months of permitting China’s intellectuals the freedom to call for political reform, ponder sweeping revisions to the constitution and consider changes in the official history of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Communist Party has reportedly ordered a stop to such debate, and security personnel have begun harassing leading academics, economists and legal scholars.
Some pro-CCP idealists were adamant that the new “openness” necessitated by the bungling of the SARS crisis in April signalled a permanent relaxing and liberalisation of the media. Would that it were so! I alway said they were forced into that openness after their lies about “no SARS in Beijing” were exposed to the world. I said freedom of the press was a myth in China. Now we are back to business as usual, i.e., repression and massive censorship.
In the past weeks, party organizations, research institutes and universities have been instructed to stop all conferences and suppress all essays about those three subjects, according to sources within the Communist Party. The Ministry of Propaganda has informed China’s news media there are other topics that can no longer be broached, the sources said.
At the heart of the shift back to the suppression of free thinking, Pomfret says, lies a political issue:
Chinese sources said the number and vociferousness of these demands [for reforms] had worried party officials, especially those close to Jiang Zemin, the former Communist Party boss. Jiang rose to power after the Tiananmen crackdown, and any change in the official version would undermine his legitimacy and that of people he placed in power.
More broadly, the effort to muffle debate about these issues appears to be part of a broader struggle between Jiang and his successor, Hu Jintao, according to the Chinese sources and analysts. Jiang and his allies, the sources said, generally oppose any political loosening. By contrast, Hu has portrayed himself as a friend of reformers and liberals.
Whatever the reasons, this is certainly no surprise. As always, the dictatorship is focused on its own survival. Too much light being shined under the rock would cause the entire creaky system to collapse like a house of cards. The only practical solution: extinguish the light.
It’s a smart short-term fix. Long-term, it’s just another piece of Scotch tape trying to cover up a massive whole in the dam. It’s just a matter of when that dam will finally burst and wash away the scheming, deceitful “leaders.”
I know, it sounds like wishful thinking; but I sincerely believe their days are numbered, if for no other reason than the economy. which is not nearly as robust as so many outside of China have chosen to believe. Manufacturing is strong, and cheap labor will help keep things looking rosy. But so many other areas of the China economy are built on sand. The clock is ticking.
[UPDATED at 8:45 pm, Singapore time]
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.