[Homestead] The old, old mechanism for social and political change strikes China

Tvoivozhd 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 
they swim.

	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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