The stark contrast between China’s economic dynamism and its political sclerosis is not only the principal focus of factional disputes within the ruling Communist Party. Observers are also pondering whether the absence of political reform raises questions about the resilience of the China model.
“The absence of political liberalization may prove an Achilles heel,” writes China analyst Jonathan Fenby.
The regime’s conservative forces may be on “a dangerous path in blocking the evolution China needs, particularly if the regime’s claim to deliver ever-increasing material well-being is hit by events such as a big drop in external demand, rising inflation or a food crisis,” he argues.
The former officials accused “invisible black hands” of suppressing Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent speech in which he advocated political reform to match the country’s economic performance.
“Without political reform, China may lose what it has already achieved through economic restructuring,” reportedly argued.
The Chinese people’s “wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible,” he said last week.
While some observers question whether Wen really supports democratic reform, his remarks have sparked fierce debates about the country’s political trajectory.
“Some people have come under the influence of erroneous Western political and legal concepts and now and then make expressions that don’t conform to Marxist legal theory,” said Zhou Yongkang, a leading conservative.
But the current debate is principally about strategies for reforming the party and maintaining the current system, analysts suggest, rather than transition to a pluralist liberal democracy any time soon.
“The differences here are real and significant but not ideological,” said Oxford University China expert Steve Tsang.