05/07/2007, 00.00
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Talk about democracy ahead of party congress

A few months before the Communist Party’s 17th congress, demands for political reforms are growing. The fight between Hu and the Shanghai gang and problems linked to corruption among party officials are prominent in the background. Democracy in the mainland could favour reconciliation with Taiwan.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – “Political system reform can no longer be delayed. [. . .] Only constitutional democracy can fundamentally solve the ruling party's problems of corruption and graft, only democratic socialism can save China.” These remarks were made not by a political dissident, but by a Communist Party veteran. They are from an article he wrote last February for a monthly magazine, Yanhuang Chunqiu (China across the Ages). As such they are rekindling the debate about democracy in China—just enough to embarrass the party leadership a few short months before the 17th party congress in October.

Mr Xie, 85, joined the party in 1946. In the 1950s he was jailed and felt the brunt of a sweeping purge. For him, Marxism does not entail necessarily the dictatorship of one party. Looking at the history of the 20th century, he sees that in the competition between capitalism and Marxism, the latter won in its democratic socialist form in Sweden, with its stress on equality and political rights, “transforming both capitalism and communism.”

Xie’s vision, raising questions about the legitimacy of the entire system going back to its roots, has appeared online but has been coldly received by the party’s propaganda chiefs, who have preferred to treat it as “bourgeois liberalisation” and a much feared ideological weapon for western ‘peaceful evolution’ of China. And yet Xie has not yet incurred any official wrath.

According to some analysts, this is so because China’s leaders, including Hu Jintao, fear fanning ideological disputes so close to the party congress which should confirm Hu’s position as party secretary for the next five years. Ultimately, the congress should seal Hu’s victory over the Shanghai gang, the party faction linked to former President Jiang Zemin.

Members of this group, many of whom involved in corruption scandals, are spearheading the call for more democracy within the party, probably to save some space for themselves.

In October 2005 the Council of State released a white paper in democracy in China pledging reforms whilst preserving the Communist Party’s leading role and dominance.

None the less, the party is under considerable strain to find ways to cope with widespread corruption among its members, a situation that threatens the survival of the party itself since it is cause for social unrest and criticism; hence, the party leadership’s proposal for greater democracy within the party.

In his trip to Japan last April, Premier Wen Jiabao himself had spoken about the need for political reforms in China.

Analysts like Qin Geng go further and suggest that democratic reforms in the mainland are the only way to solve the Taiwan issue. For Qin, Taiwan wants independence only because there is no democracy and freedom in the mainland.

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