Tuesday, March 9, 2010



After successfully carrying forward and implementing the policy of economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the time has come to think in terms of initiating a policy of political reforms to give a greater voice to the people and the media in articulating their views on the policies and performance of the Government. At a time when the Internet has had a spectacular expansion in China and thousands of blogs have provided the netizens with an opportunity to express their frank views on the problems confronting the country and the performance of the Communist Party and the Government, it looks absurd to project rubber stamp bodies such as the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Parliament, under session in Beijing since March 5,2010, as the genuine voice of the people. The time has come for a genuine political restructuring of the country without damaging its political stability.

2. These refreshing views have found expression from some quarters during the current session of the NPC. Among those expressing himself in favour of political restructuring was Prime Minister Wen Jiabo himself who told the NPC on March 5,2010, while delivering the annual report on the work of his Government: “ China's modernization drive and economic reforms could risk a failure without political restructuring.The Government would create conditions for the people to criticize and supervise the Government, and let news media fully play their oversight role so as to put the authorities under sunlight.”

3. Commenting on his remarks which have not received outside China the attention they deserved, the Government-owned Xinhua news agency said: “ Observers took the remarks as a significant signal for the nation to advance political restructuring.”

4. It quoted Professor Wang Wei of the Politics School of the Chinese Academy of Governance, as commenting as follows on Prime Minister Wen’s remarks: “ Wen's statement reflected the Central Government's confidence although the nation faced a complex internal and external environment. If the Government gets carried away by achievements and thinks the system unparalleled, the nation will be thrown into danger, as the nation can hardly sustain its economic prosperity if political restructuring trails."

5. It also quoted Prof. Yu Pei, head of the World History Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that advancing political restructuring would help China better address its thorny domestic concerns and bring closer the ties between the Government and the people. He added : “’If China wants to seek a bigger role in the global arena, it must grow stronger and have its economic and social problems well addressed first. In his work report to the National People's Congress Wen admitted the Government's work still fell considerably short of public expectations. Wen also admitted that the transformation of Government functions is incomplete and there is too much Government interference in the micro-economy, and public administration and services are relatively weak. Efforts should be made to focus on transforming Government functions, deepening reform of the administrative system and working hard to make the Government devoted to service.”

6. Among the political reforms mentioned by the Prime Minister were:

The Government will earnestly deal with serious infringements on public interests related to enterprises' conversion to a stockholding system, land expropriation, housing demolition and resident relocation, environmental protection, labor disputes, and legal and litigation issues.

It will also improve handling of public complaints.

It will develop socialist democracy and effectively safeguard the democratic rights of people as "masters of the country."

China will further expand primary-level democracy and strengthen primary-level self-governing bodies so that people can better participate in the management of local affairs.

The legislature is to amend the Electoral Law, adopted in 1953, during the session. The amendment aims at ensuring equal electoral rights between urban and rural residents.

7. The emphasis in Wen’s speech was still on China continuing as a socialist democracy. That means, he has ruled out Western-style liberal democracy. There will be greater freedom to criticize Government’s policies and performance, but not political dissidence. The criticisms should seek to improve the party and the Government and not weaken and undermine their primacy. That is the message which he sent across to the people through his statement in the NPC.

8. But in an editorial carried on March 4,2010, the party-owned “Global Times”, which seeks to project itself as more independent and objective than other party and Government-owned media, said: “On the long, winding path toward democracy, muzzled "people's representatives" would undoubtedly take the nation nowhere. China is a conventionally centralized society, where consensus seems so easy to reach, and dissenting opinions are so rare. That explains why the delegates' courage and savvy to speak the truth can play a crucial role in properly addressing the concerns of the vulnerable social groups and laying a solid foundation for a civil society. Caught in the "deep water zone" of reform, China finds itself confronted with many pressing economic, political and social problems. Past achievement can at best serve as a morale booster, though at times they may inspire solutions. While they provide a record for going forward, it is problems that demand attention. Only when the people's representatives can freely express their concerns and frankly moot suggestions can the problems be solved efficiently while social justice is delivered. Given the domestic and international scenarios of the "most complicated year," there is a particularly strong case for the authentic voices of representatives to be heard. Riding the wave of rising expectations, both at home and abroad, China can only go forward when the people's representatives are truthful and outspoken at the people's sessions.”

9. Political reforms, yes, but in Chinese colours. That is the message coming out of the NPC session. (10-3-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )



The Chinese are less tense and more relaxed as Tibet and Tibetans observe the second anniversary of the uprising of March 10,2008, which started in Lhasa and spread across the Tibetan areas. They have made many preventive arrests in Tibet to prevent anything untoward happening, but the high tension, which one witnessed last year, is not there.

2.The Chinese authorities continue to be more nervous about the situation in Muslim-majority Xinjiang than in Buddhist-majority Tibet. Despite the reported death last month of Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the Amir of the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET), in a missile strike by a Drone (pilotless plane) of the US in North Waziristan of Pakistan, the Chinese officials in charge of internal security in Xinjiang are worried over the situation in the Autonomous Region and are taking no chances. If the death of Abdul Haq is confirmed, it is not clear who would succeed him. So little is known about the organisational structure of the IMET that it is difficult to assess what would happen to the IMET after him.

3. There has been a greater sophistication in Beijing in the handling of the Tibetan issue. One no longer sees the kind of demonisation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama which one used to see before March,2009. The Chinese reacted with anger to the meeting of President Barack Obama with His Holiness in the White House last month, but refrained from talk of any retaliatory action against the US.

4. The Chinese authorities held a Tibet strategy session at Beijing from January 18 to 20, 2010. Since the People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet in 1949-50, Chinese leaders are reported to have held five such strategy sessions under the name the Tibet Work Forum. The latest session called the Fifth Tibet Work Forum was reported to have been attended by about 300 Party, Government and military leaders playing a role in policy-making on Tibet.

5.There were three significant outcomes of the Forum:

While continuing to reject the Dalai Lama's idea of an integration of all the Tibetan areas of Tibet,Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, they are now making a distinction between the problems of governance in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the problems of development of the Tibetan minority living in these provinces. There is an attempt to approach the development, religious and cultural problems of the Tibetans in a comprehensive manner, wherever they might be living.

While continuing to claim that Tibet has developed considerably under Chinese rule, there is now an admission that there is a wide gap between the urban and rural areas. The development in Tibet has till now been focused largely on infrastructure projects. The beneficiaries of infrastructure-centric development were the people in the urban areas. The rural people benefited mush less. There is now an admission of the need to develop further the rural areas in order to improve the quality of life of the people.

The Work Forum led to a decision to resume the dialogue with the representatives of His Holiness after a gap of 14 months. The talks, which were held in the last week of January, 2010, could not break the deadlock. Both sides stuck to their respective position. While the representatives of His Holiness maintained that the purpose of the dialogue was to discuss the future of Tibet and the Tibetans in the context of His Holiness' demand for greater autonomy and for the integration of all Tibetan-inhabited areas in a single province, the Chinese made it clear that the purpose was to discuss the future of His Holiness and not of Tibet and the Tibetans. However, despite the deadlock, both sides have kept open the possibility of more meetings.

6. The opportunity provided by the current session of the National People's Congress (NPC), the Chinese Parliament, at Beijing has been utilised by the Chinese leaders to make it clear in a media briefing held on March 7,2010, in the margins of the session that the Chinese Government will have the final say regarding succession to His Holiness.Padma Choling, an ethnic Tibetan who was appointed Governor of the Tibet autonomous regional government in January, 2010, told the media briefing as follows:"The reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism should follow strict historical conventions and religious rituals. There have been 14 Dalai Lamas ... It is unreasonable for him to do whatever he wants (about reincarnation). There's no way for him to do so.The 14th Dalai Lama himself was approved by the Nationalist government, the then central regime of China."

7.Qiangba Puncog, Chairman of the standing committee of the Tibet autonomous region's People's Congress, said at the briefing: "The reincarnation must meet the traditional requirements in four aspects: religious rituals, historical conventions passed on since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), lot drawing from the Golden Urn in front of the Buddha Sakyamuni, as well as approval from the Central Government.
Any claimed reincarnation that fails to meet all these requirements will be illegitimate and invalid."

8.Padma Choling ridiculed the Dalai Lama's indecision on his succession and said: "The Dalai Lama has previously made a series of assertions, saying that he might choose his reincarnation while alive, that he could stop his reincarnation, that his reincarnation could be designated, that his reincarnation could be a female, or that his reincarnation would be found inside or even outside China. People don't know which assertion is what he really wants. There is currently no need to talk too much about issues related to the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, as he is still alive."

9. The Chinese have utilised the current NPC session to give a greater political exposure to the Panchen Lama nominated by the Chinese Government in 1995 after rejecting the Panchen Lama designated according to Tibetan Buddhist traditions by the Dalai Lama. The Government-designated Panchen Lama is one of the 13 new members nominated to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top advisory body with no legislative powers.

10. During his interactions with the Tibetan delegates to the NPC session, President Hu Jintao said that political stability and economic development would be the keynotes of the Government's policy on Tibet. ( 9-3-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )