Many people persistently make remarks that Xi Jinping might or has to initiate political reform. The story that appeared on January 13 in Ming pao should serve to somewhat cool down the wishful thinking of these observers.
The story was that, the book Liu Yazhou guojia sikao lu (Liu Yazhou’s thoughts on the country) was published, its editor Wang Yi claimed that remarks that Liu made were collected. Some of those content stated that China’s rise depends on political reform, the core of which is democratization, the democratization within the Communist Party in particular.
This type of articles published under Liu’s name has been in circulation on the internet for nearly a decade. Several books by the name “Essays by Liu Yazhou” were published, and it is said on the internet that those were distributed as learning materials in Chengdu Military Region. Liu Yazhou never issued any statement that those articles stole his name before. Why did he do that now? There certainly is a reason to it.
Let’s first look at the facts. Since 2003, works under Liu’s name have been in circulation, many of those articles touched on the status quo of China, its foreign policy and political system reform. Quite a number of famous individuals wrote in commendation of the openness, wisdom, and profoundness of those pieces and made the assumption that the reformists at the high level inside the Communist Party are gathering strength. As a result, many became hopeful about the reformists in the Party and the younger faction in the military.
I did not write to sort out the misunderstanding until I saw Peking University professor Mr. Qian Liqun used my article as a proof to illustrate the open-mindedness of the Princelings. However, General Liu did not say anything. I could only guess that the general himself had nothing to do with the confusion and that things were not yet settled back then, it was not risky to talk about political system reform.
I believe that, being in proximity to those at the core of power, Liu would surely know better than the wishful observers as to what Xi Jinping truly intends to do.
Looking back at the speeches Xi Jinping delivered in the past few months, what he has been stressing repeatedly is that the one-party dictatorship of the CPC would be upheld. And he would not let the clash between Mao’s and Deng’s paths—which emerged during Hu Jintao’s second term—to continue. So, to settle the dispute, he came up with a compromise: after voicing his affirmation of Mao’s thoughts in his speech, Xi promptly toured south to show that Deng’s reform and opening path is inherited.
When both the Maoist-leftists and those with vested interests thought they have Xi Jinping on their side and attack each other, Xi delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of the Party Central Academy that suggested there is linkage between the first 30 years under Mao’s rule and the second under Deng’s leadership. Deng’s reform and opening path must not be used to negate Mao’s leadership. This is effectively saying that he does not negate the“Socialist Transformation”, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The Overseas edition of the People’s Daily interpretation of this speech of Xi was entitled: “two 30 years, one single path of revival.”
When the power transition is completed and the power structure is by and large settled, what the high level of the CPC repeatedly states is in fact the political path they want to go in the future.
In this case, why then do people keep saying that Xi Jinping will reform? I believe that is the result of the projection of their subjective wishes.
To Western countries, China’s systemic credibility has always been an obstacle in their dealings with the country. These countries hope to see China begin democratization as soon as possible because they are acutely aware of the systemic obstacle of the Chinese characteristics in foreign policy, business dealings, and significant international events.
Although Western China watchers now have a better understanding of the country, some of them still make curious comments. Take a piece published in the Wall Street Journal for example, it said Xi Jinping has a glamorous wife who is a diva, his daughter is studying at Harvard, he himself spent a few weeks in the United States and he has a liberal father, and all these will be the crucial factors that make Xi Jinping initiate reform.
The intelligentsia and the middle class of China yearn for reform because apart from a top-down reform, there is no other viable route. The hatred the bottom of society harbored does not target the system and the high level of the CPC Central authorities. Instead, that anger is directed more at corrupt officials, business, intellectual and cultural elite. Sensing the spread of the hostility, the intelligentsia and the middle class could only keep calling for political reform and urging the high level of the CPC to change as soon as possible.
In fact, Wang Qishan’s recommendation of the book by Tocqueville is an indication that high officials of the CPC dread political reform. As I wrote before that Wang recommended this book for years out of two purposes. First, he meant to remind those intellectuals who call for democratization that things might not turn out as they wish: what comes after the collapse of the Communist Party might not necessarily be democracy and order; instead, a more probable situation would be like that of the French Revolution, the country get trapped in the quagmire of populism; the purge of the rich and elites becomes the norm; the democratization that everyone yearns for could be just a repeat of the guillotine politics.
Second, he meant to warn the ruling clique that, according to the Tocqueville Law, reform might not be fun, “the most dangerous time for a bad regime is not when it is most evil, but is when it begins to reform”, the so-called “reform” is no different from seeking death.
Viewed from the CPC perspective, the hatred of the bottom of society and the lessons from the downfall of rulers after the Arab Spring alike make the Communist Party see the abolition of one-party dictatorship as the road to its own destruction.
Because of this, the head of the government and country the CPC choose has to be politically reliable. From the interest viewpoint of Beijing, Xi Jinping is without doubt the ideal person to succeed Hu Jintao and head the Party.
Xi's family connection with the ruling party and his thoughts have made him a definitely trustworthy person. He will not become Mikhail Gorbachev of China for sure. Unlike his predecessor, Xi Jinping is assertive. And dissimilar to the ousted Bo Xilai, Xi knows where the lines are drawn and would restrain to prevent intensification of conflicts at the high level of the Party.
Xi was chosen because of these qualities. And it could be said that Xi is a guardian of the Red regime of China. To expect him to lead China on to the path of democratization would be like fishing in the air.
The only variable is the economy. If the Chinese economy does well and could hold on for another ten years, then Xi Jinping will not reform. but if the economy deteriorates, causing a serious financial crisis, then, under tremendous pressure, Xi might halfheartedly carry out reform. The earliest time this “probability” would present itself, though, should be during Xi's second term.