As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks

A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. Son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more. “All you had to do,” said one attendee, Zhang Lifan, “was look at the number of luxury cars and the low numbers on the plates.” Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February. The private gatherings are a telling indicator of how even some in elite are worried about the course the Communist Party is charting for China’s future. And to advocates of political change, they offer hope influential party members support the idea that tomorrow’s China should give citizens more power to choose their leaders and seek redress for grievances, two longtime complaints about current system. But the problem is that even as tiny band of political reformers is attracting more influential adherents, it is splintered into factions that cannot agree on what “reform” would be, much less how to achieve it. The fundamental shifts that are crucial to their demands, a legal system beyond Communist Party control as well as elections with real rules and real choices among candidates, are seen even among the most radical as distant dreams, at best part of a second phase of reform. In addition, the political winds are not blowing in their favor. The spectacular fall this spring of Bo Xilai, the Politburo member who openly espoused a populist philosophy at odds with elite leaders, offered an object lesson in the dangers of challenging the status quo. And official silence surrounding his case underscores high-level fears that any public cracks in the leadership’s facade of unity could lead its power to crumble. As a result, few people here expect the party to willingly refashion itself anytime soon. And even those within elite prepared to discuss deeper changes, including the second-generation “princelings,” as they are known, have a stake in protecting their own privileges. “Compare now to 1989; in ’89, reformers had the upper hand,” said Mr. Zhang, historian formerly associated with government’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to the pro-democracy student protests that enjoyed support of a number of important party leaders but were crushed in Tiananmen Square. “Twenty years later, the reformers have grown weaker. Now there are so many vested interests that they’ll be taken out if they touch anyone else’s interests.” To Mr. Zhang and others, this is the conundrum of China’s rise: autocracy that back-flipped on Marxist ideology to forge world’s second-largest economy seems incapable of embracing the political changes that could prolong its own survival. Much as many Americans bemoan a gridlocked government split by a yawning partisan gap, Chinese advocates for change lament an all-powerful Communist Party they say is gridlocked by intersecting self-interests. None of dominant players, a wealthy and commanding elite; rich and influential state industries; a vast, entrenched bureaucracy, stand to gain by ceding power to the broader public. Many who identify with reform camp see change as inevitable anyway, but only, because social upheaval will force it. In that view, discontent with growing inequality, corruption, pollution and other societal ills will inevitably lead to a more democratic society or a sharp turn toward totalitarianism. An overriding worry is that unless change is carefully planned and executed, China risks another Cultural Revolution-style upheaval that could set it back decades (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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