02 August, 2006

The student surpasses the teacher

Evidently there are some quiet but interesting events in China, prompted by, of all things, the (relative) reforms underway in Vietnam. Willy Lam at The Jamestown Foundation reports:

Discussion among liberal scholars and CCP members first emerged in closely monitored Chinese websites and blogs after the VCP held its 10th Congress in April to pick its new party chief. Keeping with Leninist tradition, all such “elections” had in the past, involved only one candidate, with the ballot casting a mere formality. Yet for the first time in the April conclave, then party boss of Ho Chi Minh City Nguyen Minh Triet, well known for his stern anti-corruption campaigns, ran against the incumbent, veteran Politburo member Nong Duc Manh. Manh, thought by some to be a son of Founding Father Ho Chi Minh, fended off the challenge. Yet, at a plenary session of the 11th National Assembly held in June, the reformist Triet was elected state president by a large margin. In the same meeting, most government leaders above the age of 60 voluntarily retired. This made possible the early accession of Vice-Premier Nguyen Tan Dung, 56, to the post of prime minister (BBC News, June 27).

Among the well-known Chinese intellectuals who have applauded the reform experiments in Vietnam was liberal theorist Zhou Ruijin, a former editor of the People’s Daily and Shanghai’s Liberation Daily. Zhou wrote a piece for an electronic magazine entitled, “We Should Pay Attention to Reforms in Vietnam.” Zhou, who became famous for expounding on Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the early 1990s, asked in his article whether the VCP had already overtaken the CCP in “intra-party reform.” Referring to the Chinese cadres’ usually patronizing attitude toward Vietnam, Zhou wrote, “The student has surpassed the teacher.” In addition to urging the CCP leadership to consider holding “multi-candidate elections” to select its general secretary at the upcoming 17th Congress, Zhou praised the high degree of transparency within VCP deliberations as well as the party’s willingness to entertain the views of non-party members (Yazhou Zhoukan, Hong Kong, July 30)

Of course, "reform" is a relative term. It sounds more like the multi-faction, one-party system set up years ago in Tanzania, rather than the two party Republicrat system of the US, and nothing at all like a wide-ranging parliamentary democracy. But it's worth keeping an eye on it. China must adapt if it is to maintain its growth rates and domestic support for the state/elite. Can the Chinese elite work out an accomodation that will allow real changes in power and personnel without purges or revolution? Can they keep themselves in power as a class while accepting the rise and fall of individuals and factions?

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