“It is not easy for laypeople to fully understand the report to the ongoing 18th National Congress,” the party-owned tabloid newspaper Global Times conceded in a Friday editorial. The paper said that for a small number of unnamed people, “The ‘reform’ in their message has hidden meaning, including the intention of changing the country’s political system.”
Separately, the People’s Daily warned its readers, “Looking around the world, some countries copied the Western political system blindly, which could not be adapted to the local condition.” The paper called Western countries pushing democracy “stubborn” and prejudiced, saying, “In order to promote so-called universal values, they labeled political systems randomly, criticized and even interfered directly.”
Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said reform in China means different things to different people, and in the Communist Party view — laid out in Hu’s speech — it means mostly giving some more independence to the judiciary, gradually making officials disclose their assets and eventually allowing multiple handpicked candidates to compete for party positions.
“In a thousand people’s eyes, there are a thousand types of political reform,” Wang said. “The idea of political reform meant by the Chinese Communist Party is not what Westerners talk about at all. Western countries believe that the multiparty system is the end of political reform. But for the CCP, the multiparty system has never existed in their dictionary of political reform. The party must insist on one-party rule.”
But even by the party’s limited definition, reform looks likely to be a slow-moving process.
For example, the wealth held by family members of top officials has come under scrutiny after reports by Western media outlets detailing the vast holdings of the close relatives of Xi and of outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. But efforts to require the disclosure proceed at a glacial pace.
When Wang Yang, the party secretary of Guangdong province, was asked at a Friday news conference at the party congress about the need for more disclosure in light of the media exposés, he replied, “I believe officials in China will gradually have public disclosure of their family’s assets according to the rules of the Central Committee.”
The Global Times on Tuesday laid out what it called a proposed step-by-step process to increase officials’ disclosure. It said the process should start with a “pilot stage” to “produce a greater consensus while avoiding divergences of opinion.” Then, after a “transition period,” the disclosure requirement would be put in place for any official who wanted to be promoted above the county level.
The paper suggested two or three years would be needed before disclosure could be conducted, on a “trial” basis only, in perhaps “two or three provinces” for officials above the county level. After seven more years, “when the time is propitious,” disclosure could be promoted nationwide. “The whole reform should be realized within a decade,” the paper triumphantly declared.
By coincidence, a decade would be the normal time that Xi would be expected to step down as president if he serves two full terms.
Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.