This week, the Chinese Communist Party will undergo a once-in-a-decade transition as President Hu Jintao turns the country over to current Vice President Xi Jinping.
In the president’s closing speech, he urged the members of the ruling party and its prospective leaders to deal with party-wide corruption. Corruption he admittedly stated is rampant throughout the nation and ruling system.
Hu stated in his final speech to the members, “If we fail to handle the issue well, it could cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.”
Within China there have been whispers of political, social, and economic reform. These whispers come from citizens, insiders and the ruling elite. Reports of civil protest are breaking the nation’s “great firewall” and reaching international audiences generally through social media and video-sharing.
But many political bystanders and Chinese citizens doubt if the party will take effective measures to deal with issues that could prove to haunt them later on.
The one party system, which is guaranteed sole control over the nation, is made up of “dedicated” and “trusted” members, who exert a large amount of power over Chinese policies, most of who descend from favored, privileged and wealthy families. The ruling body, while small, is an exclusive group maintaining control over a widely diverse population.
Hu Jintao’s acknowledgement during this transitional period comes perhaps in response to the recent controversy and international attention surrounding ejected party member Bo Xilai, whose wife was convicted of murdering a British businessman. Talks of reform and actual actions seem to vary greatly in Chinese politics.
With the reform of corruption comes the reform of civil liberties, which is something that party members will likely challenge. It can be argued perhaps that privileged members of this one-party system have used gaps in their society’s protection of individual liberties to gain their power in the first place.
An increase in civil liberties would undoubtedly change the nation’s perspective and encourage discourse which would likely threaten the communist party’s very existence. Despite the vague possibility of such reforms, the governing body’s record of ruling and suppressing basic civil rights paints a very different picture.
The possibility of dealing with corruption is difficult when citizens live in fear of punishment for speaking out against local and regional leaders. Limits on their speech and reporting abilities are enabled by the party’s members and trusted affiliates.
For the Chinese Communist Party to address corruption, it must first address the operations of its party, and decide on the level of control it wishes to continue. Because of these controls on political discourse amongst citizens and repression of basic civil liberties, much of the Chinese population judges the effectiveness of the government’s actions based merely on the rising rate of income.
As long as the government continues to promote economic prosperity and raise the standard of living, citizens seem relatively uninterested in the political workings of their nation.
There is no doubt that many of China’s current and most pressing issues are directly related to corruption. But the presence of rampant human rights abuses, the world’s highest number of state executions, government censorship of the internet and the heavy-handed ban on all anti-government speech, calls for more than just a response to corruption.
The once closed-door Chinese system of internal socialism has morphed into one increasing similar, if not mirroring to a western system of capitalism. Perhaps just as its economic system has reformed over the past few decades to adjust for growth, so should the single-party ruling system that governs China.
Brian Doherty a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.