Hu Jintao’s swan song on economic, political reform in China

Hu Jintao

Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered a speech at a seminar of provincial and ministerial level officials in Beijing on July 23, 2012. The speech was regarded as his swan song before retirement as all the top leaders attended the seminar, and his designated successor Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed its importance.

Though he will give a report at the 18th Congress, as the report will be made on behalf of the party’s Central Committee, it has to be reviewed and agreed by all the Politburo Standing Committee members and cannot be regarded as Hu’s personal speech.

China’s official media CNTV gave a summary of the speech, which I believe is much shorter than the full text, but I don’t think readers are interested in a speech full of party jargons; therefore, I only give a short account of what is interesting in the speech.

First, we all are clear that Hu wants his successor to cherish his legacy; therefore, he talked much about his adherence to reform and opening up, placing particular emphasis on his “Outlook on Scientific Development.”

The stress on reform in fact aims at telling his successors to follow his strategies on economic development and political reform.

Recently, there has been much talk about the end of China’s fast growth, which is best reflected in the title of a long article on Newsweek “End of Chinese Miracle.” However, Hu and Wen Jiabao do not think the miracle has ended. Hu stressed speeding up transformation of China’s pattern of economic development.

China should no longer rely on the export of cheap goods produced by its cheap labour. In fact, due to wage increases and the government’s plan for further increase in wages, Chinese labour is not, and will no longer be, cheap compared with its Asian neighbours.

According to CNTV, Hu says, China should now boost development through improvement of quality and efficiency, implement the strategy of driving growth by innovation and creation and conduct strategic adjustment of its economic structure. In my opinion, this means putting an end to the state-owned sector’s monopoly, and introducing fair competition between China’s state-owned and private sectors. That is what I call the fourth round of economic liberalisation.

In addition, Hu stressed invigorating various kinds of market and boosting simultaneous development of industrialisation, information, urbanisation and agricultural modernisation. Due to high savings among Chinese people, increasing consumption through urbanisation and raising people’s income by industrialisation, information and agricultural modernisation will greatly expand China’s huge market of 1.3 billion people. I believe if Hu’s successors carry out the strategies left behind by Hu and Wen, they may achieve two decades of fast growth.

Democracy and human rights are the trends of our times. If Hu’s goal to make China rich and powerful is achieved by his successors, Chinese people will be richer and better educated, and they will strive for democracy and human rights. They will obtain democracy and human rights by either transforming or discarding the party. It is unavoidable unless China remains poor and backward.

In addition, like Wen, Hu knows political reform is indispensable if China wants to maintain its high growth rate. He was on Wen’s side when Wen openly advocated democracy time and again in the past and Wen was, therefore, not in trouble in spite of conservatives’ strong opposition.

Now, the conservatives have suffered a defeat when Bo Xilai was beaten in his power struggle, and China is able to conduct further economic liberalisation and political reform. Hu has to come out to speak in favour of democracy. He has seldom given people the impression that he also advocates democracy. It is now his last chance to show that he also cares for political reform and democracy. Otherwise, he will leave an image as a political conservative forever in Chinese history, especially when China has democracy in the future.

That will be a great regret not only for himself but more seriously for his well-educated wife, children and grandchildren. For me, a grandfather myself, what I care most is what image I will leave to my grandchildren. Therefore I can better understand Hu’s mindset as I am of the same age and have received school education similar to Hu’s in the same era.

To set the image as a political reformer, according to Xinhua’s report in English, “Speaking about promoting the reform of political system, Hu said the Party has always considered it important in the whole reform and development agenda, and has made significant progress in that regard.

However, this writer thinks that what Hu referred to as political reform was the establishment and implementation of the rule of law instead of democracy. The NPC has recently amended China’s criminal procedure law to ban extracting confession by torture and ensure lawyers’ rights to defend their clients. But nothing has been done for democracy in the decade when Hu has been in charge.

For democracy, there is the tricky issue in China that the party’s dominance of Chinese politics will be diluted by democracy. It seems an insurmountable obstacle. Therefore, CNTV says in its report, “Hu Jintao stresses that in promoting political structural reform, organic integration of the party’s leadership, the position of the people as masters of the country and the rule of law must be persisted.”

However, according to CNTV, Hu also said, “a wider-reaching and fuller people’s democracy should be developed to ensure that the people conduct in accordance with law democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic administration and democratic supervision. Greater attention should be paid to exerting the important role of the rule of law in the administration of the country and society, safeguarding the integration, dignity and authority of rule of law in the country, guaranteeing social fairness and justice and ensuring that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedom according to law.”

This writer regards “democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic administration and democratic supervision” as the most wonderful part of Hu’s swan song. How can this be achieved when Chinese politics are dominated by one party?

Jiang Zemin’s solution is to turn the party into a party of the whole people in the third of his Three Representatives. Since the party represents the whole people, its government is the government of the people. Jiang Zemin began the practice of allowing all people including capitalists to join the party.

Hu has invented his Outlook on Scientific Development that stresses “putting the people first”. A government that puts the people first is a government for the people.

Then what is left in Lincoln’s democracy is a government by the people. There must be democratic election. To achieve that there should be democratic election in the party.

When there is democracy within the party and the human rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of press, etc. there will be democratic decision-making, democratic administration and democratic supervision. China’s democracy will be better than that of the US.

As mentioned in my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements,” since the party is too powerful to remove and the removal may give rise to chaos, the best way to achieve democracy in China is to turn the party into a democratic party where various factions compete with one another openly. As pointed out in my book, as the party is for all the people, when a faction comes to power in the party through democratic election, it has to serve the whole people instead of merely the faction, as the party belongs to the whole people. That will be much better than the democracy of the US that may result in having a government by the people but of a party and for the party.

Of course, it will be better if there is no dominance of one party. That may happen when there is democracy of one party, but cannot be pursued under China’s practical circumstances now.

China has to invent its own democracy that suits its own national conditions. For such a great country with its own special culture and national conditions, it cannot copy the model of any other country though it should learn from other country’s strong points.

Categories: Politics & Law

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5 replies


  1. Successor ignores Hu Jintao’s call for democracy « China Daily Mail
  2. China: Democracy conspicuously missing in Xinhua commentary on Hu’s speech « China Daily Mail
  3. China’s state media advocates democratic decision-making « China Daily Mail
  4. Pro-democracy army officer joins Chinese military top brass « China Daily Mail
  5. China: Wen Jiabao will strive for political reform after retirement « China Daily Mail

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