A former Communist Party leader called for parliamentary democracy for China and sought to avert the Tiananmen massacre, newly released audio recordings reveal.
Radio Free Asia reveals former premier Zhao Ziyang’s prescience in predicting that economic reform without democracy would generate a new set of social and political ills. China, he said, “will run into the situations that have occurred in so many developing countries,… the commercialization of power, rampant corruption, and a society polarized between rich and poor.”
The posthumously published memoir, “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang,” also makes it apparent that Zhao rather than Deng Xiaoping was the principal architect of economic reform.
Deng wanted market reforms without “bourgeois liberalization,” or Western influences, says Zhao. Deng’s idea of “political reform” amounted to little more than measures “precisely intended to further consolidate the Communist Party’s one-party rule.”
Zhao, by contrast, advocated a gradual transition to parliamentary democracy, the system “that has demonstrated the most vitality“, contending that “it would be wrong if our party never makes the transition from a state that was suitable in a time of war to a state more suitable to a democratic society.” As one account notes:
He says that the Party should increase transparency of decision making. Next, he calls for multiple channels for dialogue with various social factions and interests to be created. Most important, he says that social groups, unions, youth organizations, and others should no longer be in “monotonous unity” with the Party, and should truly represent the people they are meant to represent. He urges the protection of citizen’s rights, saying “Our constitution was a good one, but there were no laws in place to support its implementation.” He also calls for freedom of association, assembly, demonstrations, petitions and strikes, and calls for limited press freedom.
The tapes will embarrass Beijing in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the violent suppression of the democracy movement. “People are going to pick over his account of what went on between the leaders,” according to Michael Davis, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The government denies that there are factional politics all the time. Zhao verifies that the Tiananmen debate was not between the government and students but an internal struggle between conservatives and liberalizers.”
The failure of market-based development to generate political liberalization is evident in the media, write Freedom House’s Christopher Walker and Sarah Cook. The Communist Party has commercialized and outsourced censorship at the expense of “genuine market values of open competition, transparency, and rule of law,” a trend that is also gaining traction in Vietnam and Cambodia.