Former Chinese Official Advocates Democracy
By Steven Mufson
This time, however, it's a businessman and former mid-level government official who claims that his views have a substantial, though still anonymous, following in the Communist Party itself.
Fang Jue, 44, a former deputy director of the planning commission in the coastal city of Fuzhou, has co-authored and distributed an essay advocating a number of proposals.
They include elections for all levels of government, including the presidency; freedom of the press and religion; relaxed oversight of social associations; an end to party control of the military; a reversal of the negative verdict on the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations; negotiations with the Dalai Lama; a further opening of the economy to foreign companies and market competition; and a pro-American foreign policy.
Fang said the essay -- labeled "the democratic faction's program proposals" -- is the culmination of a series of discussions with pro-democracy members of the Chinese Communist Party, including Central Committee members, who were disappointed with the absence of political reform initiatives during last September's 15th party congress.
He said it represents a synthesis of views, not just his own.
But in an indication of just how remote the proposed freedoms are from the current China, not a single person, other than Fang, has been willing to add his or her name to the proposals because of the danger it would pose to a career in the party and the government.
"On the surface, Chinese society is calm, and within the party and government everyone conforms," Fang said in an interview here.
"That's just on the surface. . . . The deeper reality is that many of the young and middle-aged officials are deeply dissatisfied with the situation and flaws of policies in China."
Fang is the latest of a series of intellectuals over the past six months to call publicly for radical political reform. They include an economics professor at Beijing University, a former government economist and a longtime dissident physicist.
Though the Chinese government is believed to have more than 2,000 political prisoners in jails and labor camps, it has taken no action against this recent group of reform advocates.
Fang is the only one who claims to have taken part in wider discussions with government officials and Communist Party members. He says that a couple of hundred of them, most at "upper middle" levels, have participated in informal discussions over a period of time.
"Most of us have worked within government for a long time, and our background is within the system," he said.
Fang said he has turned down all invitations to join the party. The Beijing native spent four years in the countryside of Shaanxi Province planting crops during the Cultural Revolution before returning to Beijing and graduating from Beijing University with a degree in economics. He has worked for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Research Institute of Political Science and the Fuzhou municipal government.
In 1995, he went into business with the support of former government colleagues. He said he left government in part because he sought a more independent status from which to express his views and the views of what he called a "democratic group."
Fang's decision to talk openly about the essay, written Nov. 20, comes less than two months before the start of the National People's Congress. Some analysts expect a struggle there between relatively liberal delegates, protected by outgoing congress Chairman Qiao Shi, and Premier Li Peng, who will step down from his post and replace Qiao as head of the congress.
Fang, however, says that nothing unusual will emerge from the congress and that the first opportunity for significant reforms could still be two years or more away. There have been some indications that the Chinese government intends to expand the current "experiment" with rural elections to county level governments, but thousands of senior government posts still are controlled by top Communist officials.
Fang, who now runs a trading company that deals mostly in office supplies sold in the region between Beijing and southern China, said the alternative platform grew out of disappointment with the Communist Party's continued dominance by people over age 70, as well as their failure to undertake political or democratic reforms.
The party, which holds a congress every five years, has failed to adapt to changes since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist rule in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
"The third generation of leadership in China," said Fang, borrowing the party's phrase for President Jiang Zemin and his fellow leaders, "is lagging behind the world and history."
The nine-page platform of proposals is called "China Needs a New Transformation." It starts: "China is approaching the century threshold where, if it does not bring about a major transformation of itself, it won't be able to move forward in modernization, won't gain the consent and support of people of different ages and different walks of life, and won't be truly accepted by the civilized world."
It adds, "The key to China becoming a modern country is to take first steps toward democracy."
The group advocated the separation of the Communist Party from township and county governments and then to "gradually, but not slowly, push the separation of party of government to higher levels of government and eventually to the entire system of government."
This proposal resembles one put forward at the 1987 party congress, although the idea was dropped soon afterward and was not raised at the 1992 or '97 meetings.
On the economy, the document calls for ending subsidies to state-owned enterprises, as well as ending monopolies for state-owned enterprises in certain areas. It suggests equal treatment for foreign and domestic investors alike, and allowing foreign capital access to service sectors.
It also proposes an end to protectionist rules, to conditions that force foreign firms to transfer technology, and to the "unfair practice of selecting foreign cooperation partners on the basis of political standards or other noneconomic factors."
The essay advocates freedom of expression and the recognition that "all viable theories must accept equal intellectual competition." While the government recently moved to put new restrictions on Internet communication, trying to control ideas critical of China, Fang's document says, "To promote the importation, discussion, instruction and popularization of all kinds of progressive thinking is the cultural mission and moral responsibility of intellectuals, who should not be suppressed for doing so."
The platform also endorses flexibility in dealing with Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan. It suggests wide autonomy, though not full independence, for Tibet. It says that diplomatic and military affairs should remain in Beijing's hands.
It also says China should improve its relations with Japan and the United States and exert greater control of weapons technology and goods. "In revising its foreign policy, China should make a fundamental choice:
"Should China stand on the side of the ranks of world freedom and democracy, which represent the direction and mainstream of our time, or should it stand on the opposite side?"
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company