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The 366 page report of the Party School entitled “Storming the Fortress” was delivered shortly after the Party’s Five Year Congress in October 2007 but is only now being sold in bookshops. This is not the first Party School report pointing to systematic governance problems and grassroots anger at corruption.

It reflects an ongoing debate within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Key conclusions include:

• China risks dangerous instability unless it embraces democratic reforms limiting the Party’s power, fosters competitive voting and reins in censors.
• Steady liberalisation can build a modern civil society by 2020 and mature democracy and rule of law in later decades.
• The cost of delay could be economic disarray and worsening corruption and public discontent.
• The backwardness of the political system is affecting economic development.
• Government regulation of news is needed as China navigates unsettling changes, but the present secretive and often arbitrary censorship fuels corruption and public mistrust of government.
• Press freedom is an inevitable trend and a law is required to protect journalists and halt unconstitutional interference in media activities.
• Greater official respect for religion is urged: political faith and religious faith are not in contradiction.
• China’s huge National Party Congress (NPC) – the national parliament – should be reduced in size and given direct powers to set the budget and audit government spending.
• The NPC should become a fully representative body, with representatives chosen by local communities replacing government officials.
• Candidates for legislatures should be allowed actively to compete for votes and the CCP must be subject to the rule of law.

The timing of the publication of the report is interesting – just ahead of the NPC – presumably to maximise interest.

There is no suggestion that western-style democracy is to be introduced. Overall Party control is seen to be essential if China is to pursue economic reform and attain sustainable development. While Hu Jintao, Party chief and President, believes in greater intra-Party democracy so as to reduce corruption, he has not shown any enthusiasm for more extensive political liberalisation.

Political reforms have tended to be uncoordinated and perhaps a growing number of Chinese officials and scholars appear to be advocating the development of a strategy. Slow progress is expected but the promotion of a debate is to be welcomed.

This comment has necessarily been based on the reporting of Chris Buckley of Reuters and Richard McGregor of the Financial Times.

A future blog will be published when an English version – or at least summary – is available.

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