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Global Viewpoint

Blocking ‘peaceful evolution’ will lead to instability in China

Wei Jingsheng, one of China’s most prominent dissidents exiled abroad, discusses changes within the Chinese Communist party, possibilities for political and economic reform, the impact of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, and the West's deference to China.

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Despite this, I believe the majority in the party advocates compromise on the exchange rate and measures to expand the domestic market inside of China So, for the moment, there is a standoff.

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Political reform rhetoric vs. reality

Gardels: Premier Wen Jiabao of late, in Shenzhen and on CNN, has been talking up political reform. He’s said things like “the people’s wishes and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible,” that “freedom of speech is indispensable for any country,” and that “without the safeguard of political reform, the fruits of economic reform would be lost.”

Surely, this cannot be pure rhetoric and must mean something. Is the reform faction in the party gaining strength?

Wei: Premier Wen is a cautious, calculating, and seasoned politician. He does not like to stir up conflict. He has managed to thrive inside the party despite the fact that, back in 1989, he accompanied then-party chief Zhao Ziyang to Tiananmen Square to meet with the students on a hunger strike. Yet, he wasn’t punished and has risen to his current position.

It seems the custom in recent years within the Communist Party is to speak about reform when you are just about to exit the political arena. Speaking out when exiting power is really part of a bargain to maintain the status of his faction and improve his image among the people.

Reformers aren't mainstream within the party

Besides Wen Jiabao, there are others inside the party who are more interested in political reform. Unlike what most Westerners think, they are a group of people who have handsomely profited from the current system, and they are motivated to protect their gains. At the same time, they know the Communist Party will have a hard time maintaining one-party autocracy in the times ahead. So, they advocate “peaceful evolution.” They even formed an official faction last year.

But these political reformers are not the mainstream within the party. The mainstream today consists of those officials who have not yet made enough money for themselves and thus want to keep the current political structure intact as long as possible. They are not for political reform because they suspect that if the “mob” is ever empowered, they will not forgive the party. Since international pressure on human rights in China is so weak these days, this is the absolute majority in control of decision-making in the party today.

Gardels: Premier Wen was saying these things about political reform in the lead-up to the party central committee meeting. Then, in the middle of the process, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Will this cause a reaction against political reform?


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