China Publishes Commentaries Shunning Democratic Reforms
Friday, May 25, 2007; 6:34 PM
BEIJING, May 25 -- China dropped another hint of internal debate over political reform Friday, publishing commentaries saying the country should shun European-style democratic socialism.
The brief commentaries, by a pair of established Beijing academics, ran side by side in People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper. Both argued that China could borrow useful policies from democratic countries but should remain faithful to the "socialism with Chinese characteristics" that has been official doctrine here since the 1980s.
"The path of democratic socialism is not able to save China," said Xin Xiangyang of the government-sponsored Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Only the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics can make China flourish."
The commentaries, by contesting the idea that democracy would be good for China, suggested some within the party are pushing for political reforms to match the dramatic economic loosening that has taken place during the past 25 years.
Any sign of doctrinal differences has become particularly sensitive as leaders maneuver for advantage before the 17th Party Congress next fall, when President Hu Jintao hopes to cement his hold on power and anoint possible successors in the party hierarchy. In particular, analysts here said, he is expected to name his own loyalists to positions of power to replace the holdover proteges of former president Jiang Zemin.
In what was seen as a manifestation of the maneuvering, Shao Hua, the widow of Mao Zedong's late son Mao Anqing, published a front-page article in the May 18 People's Daily heaping praise on Jiang for what she described as warm-hearted concern for the legendary Chinese leader's descendants. Political observers in Beijing saw the article as noteworthy because, amid the effusive praise for Jiang, it never mentioned Hu.
Whether on doctrine or personnel, most differences of opinion within the party have remained private, forcing analysts to look for meaning in such indirect indications of what is happening behind closed doors. But a pair of essays in party-sanctioned intellectual publications early this year -- one by Xie Tao, a former Renmin University vice president, and another by Zhou Ruijun, a former People's Daily editor -- openly called for democratic reforms as the best way forward for China. Xie specifically referred to Northern Europe's democratic socialist systems as a source of inspiration.
Both essays had particular weight because they were published in party-establishment journals and authored by respected former officials with longstanding party credentials. They were seen as daring because both suggested that part of China's current problems stem from the Communist Party's refusal to relinquish its monopoly on power.
Premier Wen Jiabao issued the first public reply Feb. 27 in a front-page People's Daily article, saying China should have democracy as a distant goal but is not yet ready for it. His argument was that China should not adopt European-style democracy but that, one day, "socialism with Chinese characteristics" would include China's own version of democracy.
The publication of Friday's commentaries suggested that Wen's rebuttal has not silenced the debate and that the party leadership is still eager to douse any enthusiasm Xie and Zhou may have ignited.
"It is out of the question to mix up the difference between democratic socialism and the creation by Chinese Communist Party people of socialism with Chinese characteristics," said Cao Changshen, a professor at the prestigious Peking University.