Amid the global tide of democratization, China’s stagnation is equal to retrogression. The question of who succeeds Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao is not important now. Citizens are the most important force for political reform — and what matters is our courage and wisdom, what actions we take, and how many citizens wake up.
The Communist Party has never taken the initiative to reform. Officials have made small changes only when faced with domestic or international pressure, or when they felt they stood to lose more if they did not change. Even the slightest progress in China comes at a huge price paid by citizens — with their dignity, freedom, wealth, health and lives.
Human rights violation is the core issue of Chinese society. The government’s “National Human Rights Action of China” plan, released in 2008, has proven to be empty words. The new plan issued last month doesn’t need to be taken seriously. China’s people should make their own Citizens’ Human Rights Action Plan: outline their hopes and what they will do to achieve them.
I, as an ordinary Chinese citizen, have some plans for the next year: I intend to strive for more space for free speech and freedom of religion and to appeal for better treatment and the release of political prisoners; I will urge officials to publicly disclose their assets; I will ask the National People’s Congress to approve the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been postponed in China for 14 years; I will help coordinate citizens’ human rights actions; and I will advocate abolishing the Central Propaganda Department and the Political and Legal Affairs Committee — those branches of government that support the dictatorship through lies, terror and violence.
This is an era to make changes at the individual and institutional levels. Democratization of China should be a global priority. Wherever Chinese politicians visit, appeals about human rights should be heard. Meetings with dissidents should be routine for the foreign politicians and diplomats who come here. And we hope that foreign electorates will support candidates who pay attention to China’s human rights issues and condemn those politicians and businesses that consider only their own interests.
No matter how severe the environment, China’s people have reason to be confident and optimistic. We can encourage and comfort the old: Democracy will be realized in this lifetime. In an autocratic society, both the rulers and their subjects live in fear. The rulers’ cruelty is rooted in their fear of resistance or punishment. Autocracy as an institution continuously produces crime, bitterness and tragedy.
Turning China into a democratic and lawful society in the next 10 years is the only peaceful option. Conciliation will never arrive without truth or confession. The sooner the Communist Party wakes up, the smaller the cost will be.