The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Long live reform, if it is not political

Beijing, Nov. 10: Economic reforms, yes; political reforms, no. Jiang Zemin’s political report, which predicted an even greater push to economic reforms, has dashed hopes for any change in its authoritarian politics.

“We should never copy any models of the political system of the West,” Jiang said in his report, plunging pro-democracy groups in frustration.

Yet, before the congress began, there was just a flicker of hope that some basic political rights could now have a chance. It was based on the party’s decision to invite comments and opinions of the small non-communist groups on Jiang’s report.

It is not known if any such comments have been forthcoming. At least the government-controlled media, which publicised the invitation to other political groups a day before the congress began last Friday, has been silent on this so far.

That means pro-democracy groups, which surreptitiously campaign on the brutal suppression of their movement at Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989, and the Falun Gong members, who claim it to be a spiritual outfit,will continue to be where they are — behind bars, labour camps or in exile abroad.

The record of the outgoing leadership in meeting demands for political reforms has been dismal. Jiang himself came to power from behind after the then party secretary Zhou Zhyang was banished for his failure to prevent the Tiananmen incident. Zhou remains in house arrest even today.

Li Peng, the number two man in the present leadership, was credited in the party for strongly supporting the military crackdown at Tiananmen.

Western observers here see little hope of things changing for the better under the new leader, Hu Jintao. He too has a tarnished image for pro-democracy groups, because of his record as a ruthless rule as governor of Tibet.

Only Wen Jiabao, widely speculated as the next Prime Minister, ranks just a shade better as a political reformer. But analysts do not think he can make any difference, especially because Jiang may continue to control the party apparatus through his nominees in the next politburo and the central committee.

“Western observers have misjudged the political course in China all these years,” says a longtime observer, “their theory that political reforms will be unstoppable after the economic reforms hasn’t worked in China. The new rich and middle classes in the cities too are happy with the wealth they have accumulated in one generation. Why should they want to upset the regime that’s given them the windfall'”

But Jiang knows the party is having new problems because of the new creed of money. Hence the stress in his report on reforms within the party. It’s all in the party — if you open up the economy to competition, partymen too will compete for it.

The reforms suggested are therefore for the new breed and the new creed of partymen, but not for the people who want political rights other than what the communist party would give them.

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