'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

China: End of an Era? (UPDATE) 

Last month, I posted a four part series about how intensifying social unrest may have persuaded President Hu Jintao to attack neoliberalism at its roots. John Ng reports on the current status of Hu's anti-corruption campaign:

An intensified campaign to crack down on official corruption is sweeping across China, with public attention focused on which big fish will be netted next after the Communist Party's announcement last month of the dismissal of Chen Liangyu as its Shanghai chief. . .

The anti-corruption drive has won the wholehearted support of the general public, with the growing expectation that President Hu Jintao will restore some social justice by fighting corrupt officials. . .

Speculation is rife that Hu's next targets will be two of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the politburo: Jia Qinglin and Huang Ju.

The ill Huang, who is also vice premier and ranks as No 6 in the official hierarchy, was Chen's predecessor. Investigations into Chen's case have so far implicated more than 50 Shanghai officials and entrepreneurs. It is suspected that Huang could have been involved in some of the scandals that are being exposed as this investigation continues.

Jia is also chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and ranks as China's No 4 leader. Though not a member of the Shanghai Gang, Jia is close to Jiang, having worked under him.

Jia was based in Fujian province from 1985 to 1996 as deputy CCP chief, governor and then party chief. It has been noted that rampant smuggling by the notorious Yuanhua Group of Lai Changxing, who is now in exile in Canada, took place in Fujian when the southeastern province was under Jia's control.

Many Fujian officials have been implicated and jailed for their involvement in this, but Jia has appeared to be immune. Two years before Beijing launched an investigation into the Yuanhua smuggling case, Jia was promoted by Jiang as Beijing's party chief, replacing Chen Xitong, who had just been purged by Jiang for corruption. The Beijing post enabled Jia to become a politburo member.

Ng notes the conventional wisdom that Hu cannot push this drive too far by going after Jia and Huang, because the removal of two Politburo members for criminal activity would be unprecedented, and risks irreparable damage to the legitimacy of the CCP. But Ng recognizes an alternative perspective, examined here at length last month, that the CCP cannot survive unless it restores public confidence in its ability to govern for the benefit of more than a privileged, connected group of party officials, entrepreneurs and their families.

Accordingly, the attainment of Hu's goal of a harmonious society is not an ideal, it is an imperative:

Hence Hu's decision to build a harmonious society means that society now is not harmonious. Indeed, there are far too many unharmonious factors: an ever-widening wealth gap; unbalanced development between regions and industries; street protests every day; deadly coal-mine accidents; local officials' abuse of power in bullying ordinary people, such as taking away land from farmers with little compensation - the list could go on.

Almost all such "unharmonious" problems could be blamed on social injustice stemming from official corruption. Hence the key to building an harmonious society is to restore social justice. But social justice cannot be restored without getting rid of official corruption.

This goes to the heart of the legitimacy of the rule of the CCP. Hu is fully aware of this. He once said at a party meeting that the CCP and the communist state would cease to exist if rampant official corruption were not effectively curbed.

While speculation about big fish being netted grabs most attention, China's anti-graft campaign is going deep into every corner of the country. Almost every day there are reports of local officials being caught.

From this point of view, by putting forward the idea of building a harmonious society, Hu aims to preserve communist rule in China. For him, this is a war he must win. If he succeeds, he will be remembered by the Chinese people. But if he fails, official corruption could provide the ultimately threat to the CCP.

Of course, the great unmentionable is the rising tide of protest that threatens to engulf the country. For now, it appears that Hu may be having some success in channeling public discontent into the safe harbor of enthusiastic support for the anti-corruption campaign. But will the public accept the limitation of this campaign to the achievement of Hu's political goals of consolidating power within himself and his supporters?

It sounds dubious, inconsistent with a recent decision to promote the unionization of much of China's manufacturing and migrant workforce. Furthermore, one wonders to what extent Hu will dictate the ultimate outcome of this campaign, given that it has been launched partially in response to riotous public displeasure with the government. Is Hu already discovering that he must learn to ride the tiger of public demands for radical change, something that even Gorbachev found impossible?

Neoliberalism has left China with a sinister, covert network of developers, business owners, investors and Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats, a network that has not only displayed a callous disregard for the well being of the populace, but, quite literally, substituted itself for the government and the CCP. It remains to be seen whether Hu can destroy it without destroying the party as well, as the extent to which the party independently exists separate from these neoliberal social and economic structures is uncertain.

Labels: , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?