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Majority of Chinese back political reforms, says report

By K J M Varma
November 01, 2010 20:06 IST
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An overwhelming majority of Chinese support political reforms to match China's economic success, amid signs of official resistance to end the monopoly of the Communist party in the country's politics.

Nearly eight out of 10 Chinese, who took part in a national poll said they believe China should stay on the path of political reform while according top priority to stability to avert a collapse similar to that of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991.

Significantly, the survey focused on political reform was conducted by the Global Poll Centre under the state-run Global Times, which is one of the organs of the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.

Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, China's Communist Party has monopolised political power. The polls assumed significance as the People's Daily in its editorial few days ago came out strongly against political reforms, saying the idea that China's political reform is seriously lagging its remarkable economic development and achievements is contrary to objective facts.

Political change can't have "pompous and empty slogans," it said. It was interpreted by some as open opposition to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's recent calls for political reforms to back up the economic restructuring, dumping the erstwhile state-run-socialist economic system. Wen said economic gains faced the danger of loosing out if they were not backed by political reforms. He, however, has not outlined what he meant by political reform, whether it meant permitting multi-party democracy.

The campaign for political reform also gathered momentum after the recent award of Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese dissident campaigning for democracy in China. Several senior Communist Party activists and academics called for lifting of censorship to expand the scope of free media in the country.

The poll conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Changsha, Xi'an and Shenyang from October 28 to 31, which is prominently featured in the Global Times, said a total of 78.4 per cent of the 1,327 respondents supported further political reform and just five per cent expressed an opposite opinion.

Another 16.7 per cent of respondents said they had no strong opinion on the subject. In terms of the goal of political reform, both items -creating a democratic political system with Chinese characteristics and exploring development - were supported by more than 50 per cent of the people. Only 15.5 per cent felt a Western democratic political system should be implemented.

Zhang Weiwei, a professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, said he was pleased with the public's mental maturity when it comes to policies. "Incremental promotion, experiments and accumulation are three effective weapons China used in the past during economic reform, which can also be applied to the political reform," Zhang said.

Nearly 70 per cent of those polled were against the "Total Westernization" and 68.9 per cent argued that stability should be a priority. The lessons of the former Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991, were mentioned by 36.5 per cent of respondents during the poll. Also, more than a quarter warned against delaying reform out of fear it could harm stability.

Zhang Shuhua, a political researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that a foundation in law and culture would help pave the way for better political reform and the opposite could delay solutions for the country's social problems. "Total westernisation is by no means a choice for us. Even western societies recognise that China's political model has enriched the world's political development patterns," Zhang added. "China should have political confidence." Two issues - reducing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor to realise social justice and erasing corruption - were identified as the most urgent practical problems that need a solution by 79.2 per cent and 73.9 per cent respectively.

Four other problems - ensuring democratic rights, transparency of party affairs, stronger laws and expanding grassroots democracy - were popular with more than 60 per cent of the respondents. Zhang Weiwei believes that these problems could be solved through political reform and legal methods. Some 63.9 per cent felt that China carried out political reforms to some extent in the past three decades and 26.9 per cent felt that only economic reform was clear during the past 30 years.

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K J M Varma in Beijing
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