[Homestead] The old, old mechanism for social and political change strikes China
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Fri Sep 24 12:59:36 EDT 2004
Finds its most fertile ground in a brand-new city without ties to the
past---and its chief proponents are the newly rich who want to maintain
their wealth by gaining some control over the political sea in which
The Christian Science Monitor - csmonitor.com
from the September 24, 2004 edition -
China's new wealth clashes with party-boss influence
*Quiet efforts are afoot in the southern city of Shenzhen to
professionalize the civil service by party bosses.*
*By Robert Marquand* | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
*SHENZHEN, CHINA* - The departure of Jiang Zemin from Chinese politics
this week has left two relatively young leaders in charge of a country
undergoing great economic growth but little political change. Still,
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have vowed to tackle one of
the thorniest problems here - the stultifying levels of official corruption.
In this booming southern city one need look no further than a new
citizen's center to get the grumbling going among ordinary folk. Its
massive steel roof curves over a five-block space in Le Corbusier style.
But both workers and the necktie set mutter that the center doesn't
serve citizens, was built without consultation and houses a surfeit of
public officials in upscale luxury.
Such complaints are typical in China, where a top-heavy Soviet-era
system remains intact. But in this gleaming factory boom-town, which
borders cosmopolitan Hong Kong and where everyone is from somewhere
else, an unusual battle is on between newly vested interests of wealth
and reform and older vested interests like turf and pork. Among those
pushing for reform are executives and new members of the upper-middle
class here as well as a reform faction in Beijing. In the other corner
are heads of city departments, local officials, as well as hard-liners
in the central government.
In June, when the shutdown of 10 Shenzhen city departments was announced
(a reduction to 35 from 45) along with news that some 200 officials were
being invited to retire - reformers held their breath. The step, one of
the first after four years of talk about the imbalance of power and
accountability, was highly sensitive and not covered in Chinese-language
media. The so-called "administrative reforms," planned ultimately to
separate party bosses from city jobs, are bitterly resisted within
China's consensus-based government and could easily fail, analysts say.
Yet if they take hold, Shenzhen may develop something found nowhere else
in China: a budding class of professional civil servants not beholden to
political cadres. Currently, China has no civil servants in the classic
British definition, and no formal system of oversight and accountability.
Both the support for and resistance to such reform can be traced to
Beijing party circles, sources say. Hu and Wen are regarded as modern
and open to experiments. But in the current political climate, change
needs to be sold to hard-liners as a benefit to the party, analysts say.
So experiments like those in Shenzhen may signal whether Hu and Wen will
address the linked problems of accountability and corruption, analysts
say - and whether they have a plan to adapt the political system to
China's rapidly growing levels of education and wealth.
"When we were poor, we needed help, but now that we are rich we feel the
main obstacle to our success is government," says Ma Jingren of Shenzhen
University who is closely involved with reform. "It is too easy for our
government to spend money."
Shenzhen was selected by reformer Deng Xiaoping as a model of economic
development, and it has been one. The sheer newness of the city means it
has fewer ingrown parochial family claims on local power. In 2000, teams
of Shenzhen officials visited city halls in Britain, Hong Kong,
Singapore, and Germany in search of new administrative models.
After four years of talk, countless reports, and infighting, little
happened. But the streamlining that took place last June has held up.
Next June, Beijing will conduct another review.
"Since Jiang has stepped down, Hu and Wen [need] to deliver on promises
to end corruption," says Michael DeGolyer of Hong Kong Baptist
University. "Just as it fell to Jiang to reform and professionalize the
Army, Hu can begin to reform in the administrative sector. To end
corruption you need to separate policymakers from policy implementation,
which is the idea in Shenzhen."
In China, reforms can't be labeled as political, but rather as
administrative. In a system where officials wish to protect against
examples like the breakup of the Soviet Union, few leaders will dare
encourage direct participation of people in anything other than
commercial endeavor. Last week Mr. Hu further clarified the point:
"History indicates that indiscriminately copying Western political
systems is a blind alley for China," Hu said at a Sept. 15 party meeting.
Local politics plays a major role. Even a seemingly simple effort to
reduce taxi fares has failed in recent years. Shenzhen taxis are the
most expensive in China, and a constant source of public irritation. Yet
after two hearings, several city interventions, and pressure by
reformers - nothing has changed. The local state-owned bus company
blocked reduced taxi fares on the argument that their profits would
suffer. But few Shenzhen residents believe that. Two weeks ago officals
told taxi drivers to cut their fares by November, but then last week
officials announced a meeting to challenge that order.
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