INTERVIEW-China wants political reform, but not chaos

Benjamin Kang Lim – Reuters

BEIJING, March 10 (Reuters) – China’s Communist Party is not
stalling on badly needed political reform to curb chronic
corruption, but any change must not bring chaos, a vice-president
of the school which trains up-and-coming party officials said.
Alarmed by rampant graft, which succeeded in toppling many
imperial dynasties, the party has been searching for checks and
balances and sought to instil greater accountability.
But the party is determined to avert the kind of popular
protests which brought down dictatorships in post-Soviet Ukraine
and Georgia in recent years.
“The ultimate goal of political reform is to make the country
strong, the society stable and the people happy,” Li Junru said.
“Political reform must not bring chaos. Exercising democracy
in a country of 1.3 billion is different from exercising
democracy in a country with a population of tens of millions or a
few hundred million.”
Li’s position gives him access to top national leaders’
thinking, and he often advises them on ideology. And strikingly
he appealed to Chinese tradition, not Marxism, to justify the
party’s grip on power.
Asked why India, with 1 billion people, can be a democracy,
he said India had religious traditions to rein in disorder.
“China has no religion to control 1 billion people,” he said.
Pressed why China cannot be more tolerant of religion, Li
said most Chinese traditionally did not believe in ghosts or
gods.
When reminded religion flourished during China’s Han and Tang
dynasties, Li said China was an ethics-based, not a
religion-based, society.
The Communist Party has monopolised politics since 1949 and
its flirtation with political reform ground to a halt after the
army crushed the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests in 1989.
But Li argued that political reform had never ended and that
it had transformed society, with individuals enjoying wide
ranging freedoms, including studying and sight-seeing abroad.
While conceding that U.S.-style multi-party election “has its
advantages” by giving people equal voting rights, the 58-year-old
said elections had their problems.
“We are seriously considering borrowing from it, but
elections contradict traditional Oriental culture which opposes
money politics — the buying or selling of government posts,” Li
said, adding that elections favoured those with money.
Li said China would choose a system that encompasses the
traits of modern democracy and traditional culture — grassroots
elections and political consultations with non-Communists.
China would not introduce presidential elections in the near
future. “How do you organise an election of this scale?” he said.
China would be better off spending election money on building
schools, roads and hospitals for hundreds of millions of farmers,
70-80 percent of whom still live in poverty, Li said.
The party’s graft busters, government auditors, the judiciary
and the media would serve as checks and balances to rein in
corruption, the one-time party theoretician and historian said.
Li defended an intensified media crackdown, saying the
government was trying to “regulate the media to restore order”.
Copyright Reuters

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