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A chapter in Yu Keping’s book “Democracy is a Good thing (referred to in post of 3 March) addresses the agenda for China’s political reforms based on the 17th five-year Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held in October 2007 (see post of 23 November 2007). Hu Jintao’s comprehensive report to the Congress sets out the planned political reforms during his second five-year mandate ( confirmed by the Congress).

There is widely believed to be a mutually reinforcing relationship between economic progress and political development. Political reforms are a matter of must, not should. As President Hu Jintao himself said:

“As an important part of the overall reform, political reform must be constantly deepened along with economic and social development to adapt to the growing enthusiasm of the people for participation in political affairs.”

Political reform must achieve multiple goals. These include transforming government functions, promoting economic development, enhancing administrative efficiency, improving the provision of public services, maintaining social stability and containing government corruption.

Incremental democratisation is the likely order, with special attention being paid to the following fields:

· Improving democracy at the grassroots level

This calls for properly handling the relationships between party and government, between government management and the self-governance of the masses, between civil organizations and local government, and between citizens’ rights and obligations.

Currrent grassroots political reforms need to deal urgently with a number of issues, including how to effectively curb bribery in democratic elections, how to limit the influence of family clans, and how to enhance citizens’ awareness of democracy and the rule of law.

Political reforms will focus mainly on reforming township organizations, improving instruments of self-governance through neighbourhood community and professional self-governance systems, expanding the scope for direct election of township party and government leaders, and transforming the governance structure and governing methods for city and rural areas.

· Improving intraparty democracy

With over 70 million members, the CCP represents most of the political, economic and social elites in China. Therefore, without intraparty democracy there can be no democracy at the centre of power.

· Improving legislative and judicial institutions

There are currently several problems including: the legal system is incomplete; extralegal intervention in judicial practices is still widespread; public awareness of the law is comparatively weak; injustices in judicial practices as well as local protectionism are common; the qualifications of many legal professionals need to be enhanced; and the phenomen of “legitimate” sector interests has begun to emerge

Among the measures that need to be taken, it is especially important to draft, debate, and pass laws in a more rational and democratic way; perfect the judicial system through national integration, greater independence, and freedom from extra-institutional intervention in legislative and judicial processes; and ensure that party organizations at various levels and party members at all levels take the leading role in safeguarding constitutional and legal authority.

· Improving the policymaking system and rational decision-making

The credibility of the party and the government are severely weakened because: arbitrary decisions too often cause policy failures; too frequent policies changes often result in the lack of much needed continuity; policy overlaps, conflicts and bureaucratic infighting often occur; and bureaucratic departmental interests too often override national interests.

The causes of these weaknesses lie not only in the qualifications of policy-makers but also stem from six specific institutional deficiencies in the policy-making process: the lack of a comprehensive system for public participation, a policy consultation system, a public hearing system, a policy evaluation system, and an effective institution for policy coordination.

· Improving the system of public oversight to serve the people’s interests

The Congress report exemplifies the effort to build a system of checks and balances with Chinese characteristics. All power must be effectively balanced or it inevitably leads to arbitrary rule and corruption. The CCP has to date refused to adopt a Western system and China is seeking an innovative way to balance power.

· Making governmental affairs more open and transparent

The report confirms the attention being paid to opening up governmental affairs to public scrutiny. However, some cadres prefer secrecy, many of the necessary institutions have not yet been set up, a number of laws and regulations are still being developed, and the established institutions lack practical feasibility.

· Improving the social management system and promoting a more harmonious society

The report prescribes the focus and direction of social policy in the near future. Outstanding problems include institutional deficiencies, lack of management talent, lack of management mechanisms or bad management, high costs, and a focus on maintaining control rather than on providing services. Critical reforms are needed in social management, public aid, social security, social work, and neighbourhood and community management systems. Civil society organizations need to be mobilised.

· Improving government and constructing a more service-oriented government

Problems which still exist are overlapping and duplicative organizations, functions and obligations; conflicting policies from different government organs; a distinction between administrative and routine affairs; and high costs of administration.

The general trend in government administrative reforms is to move gradually from regulatory oversight to the provision of services, from the rule of man to the rule of law, from centralization to decentralization of power, and from government to governance.

Comment

This is a very interesting explanation of the political reforms intended and the problems which needs to be overcome. The extent to which the reforms will be achieved before 2013 is, of course, debatable. The path of the current leadership is clear, but this approach does not necessarily represent the views of all the factions within the CCP.

Implementation at provincial and local levels will continue to meet considerable resistance: it should be borne in mind that China is de facto a huge federation. Progress will also be influenced by the economic and financial crisis. Social stability is rightly paramount in the minds of the Chinese leadership. There are strong differences of opinion as to the pace of political reform which is compatible with the maintenance of social stability.

The fact that these issues are being debated in China is not widely known and is very encouraging

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