Another “new leftist”-type profile from the ever-unlinkable SCMP, so here it is in its entirety.
China’s visionary gadfly
It is truly refreshing to talk to controversial Peking University scholar Pan Wei, who gained fame – if not notoriety – a few years ago for arguing that the mainland does not need democracy.
The professor, who teaches international studies, is something of a gadfly. Though a member of the ruling Communist Party, he says that the mainland today is “a communist country without any communists”.
For one thing, he thinks Beijing should no longer make economic development the nation’s highest goal. Instead, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary should be considered vital.
“For China,” he says, “an election system is not popular. The common people are highly indifferent.” Even the mainland’s highly touted village elections are not a real success, for him. Villagers are
indifferent to the elections and “have to be paid to vote” – presumably as compensation for lost working time.
Though critical of certain aspects of mainland policy, he staunchly defends Beijing against western critics. Much of the criticism, he contends, reflects western unhappiness over the mainland’s economic miracle of the last quarter century – a miracle that “occurred
under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party”.
He also says the command economy, before Deng Xiaoping embraced the market economy, helped the mainland make significant achievements, such as launching satellites, developing nuclear weapons and greatly
extending life expectancy.
The scholar, who has a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, thinks one of the country’s major problems today is the decline in quality of the members of the Communist Party. Other problems are the widening gap between the cities and the countryside as well as the emergence of a new class of poor people – about 150 million migrant workers.
Surprisingly for someone who often sounds like a Chinese nationalist, he says China could support a Pax Americana. The United States, he says, will find China much more useful than Western Europe.
And while China itself cannot become a global leader, it was in a position to “pull the leader down”. Therefore, the US needs China’s co-operation.
His hope, Professor Pan says, is to “create a new political civilisation different from that of the west”.
He sees the Communist Party evolving into something akin to the People’s Action Party in Singapore which, while allowing an opposition, is able to hold and win elections year after year.
The mainland, he feels, needs political reform. He wants it to become a “consultative rule-of-law region”, held up by these pillars: a politically neutral civil service; independent judiciary; anti-corruption agency; independent auditing system; extensive consultation by both the executive and legislative organs of government; and freedoms of the press, of speech, of assembly and of association. In fact, he acknowledges, his ideal system for the
mainland is the Hong Kong model of government.
Are leaders receptive to his ideas? Premier Wen Jiabao, he says, recently declared that China should recognise the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the prosecution. In order to attract Taiwan, Beijing will have to “improve [the mainland's]
own political system”.
It is highly unlikely that the central leadership will accept his ideas wholesale. But even if some of them – such as the separation of party and state, independent judiciary or politically neutral civil service – find acceptance among those in power, it would represent a
huge step forward for the mainland. With its economic reforms so strikingly successful, it is high time for China to move towards political reform.
Obviously I have some serious issues with this, but considering it’s coming from a Party scholar, I definitely find it refreshing. I like his idea of the Singapore model, though I have to doubt whether a colossus of China’s size could ever be ruled the way the miniature city-state is. I can’t imagine it, though I think it would be the best thing that could happen to China. It all depends on the emergence of that once-in-a-lifetime Lee Kuan Yew-style leader, and I just can’t see China’s power system allowing one man such sweeping authoriy that he could literally mold the country in his image. It would have to be a benevolent man, maybe a Web Jiaobao-type, but with a bit more ruthlessness. Where is he?
As far as no one caring about elections, I’ve heard that before from those towing the party line. I know it’s true for some, not so true for others. I think Pan might be surprisaed how many would be quite excited about elections if they felt it wpuld result in true representation, and not just a new round of CCP rubber-stamp clones.