The Chinese government’s failure to acknowledge the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre continues to retard the development of meaningful rule of law in China, a leading human rights group said today.
The ruling Communist party has yet to follow the example of the former party hardliner who this week expressed “regret” over the “tragedy” of the Tiananmen crackdown.
“It’s been more than three decades since the beginning of the ‘reform and opening’ era in China, yet the government has displayed little interest in reforming or opening when it comes to the protests and bloodshed from 1989,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But demands inside China for meaningful legal reform and accountability are only increasing despite government resistance.”
The authorities’ failure to honor the country’s constitution and laws is feeding instability, said Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (left), who recently arrived in the United States.
“China’s political stability may depend on its ability to develop the rule of law in a system where it barely exists,” he wrote. “China stands at a critical juncture.”
Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the blind barefoot lawyer said rule of law begins with senior Communist Party officials, including President Hu Jintao. “You are supposed to be in charge of law and order — the party secretary — and if you are not going to observe the law, how do you expect people to observe the law?”
China was on an irreversible trend towards democracy, he suggested.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I think even over the last few years as the information age has developed so quickly, China’s society has gotten to the era where, if you don’t want something known, you’d better not do it. So people are using all kinds of means to disseminate information.”
But he said the process of developing a more civil society would be slow.
“Many people — especially if it’s a big problem, they want to move the mountain in one week,” he said. “That’s not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit and start with ourselves.”
China should not simply emulate Western democracy, he said, but gain inspiration from various models of democratic governance. “We also need to learn Eastern democracy,” he said. “Japan, South Korea and China, what is wrong with having our own democracy? Taiwan has democracy, too. I still remember, there is an ancient Chinese phrase, ‘We learn from what is good, and what is bad we try to avoid.’ “
The economic impact of China’s village elections are demonstrating the practical benefits that democracy delivers in terms of living standards and quality of life, according to research by four leading economists, the Wall Street Journal reports:
Studying elections from 1982 through 2005, the quartet found villages that elected their leaders spent 27% more, on average, on “public goods” such as schools, tree plantings and irrigation canals than villages that didn’t hold elections. Elected officials also helped vastly reduce the gap between rich and poor.
Why the gains? Largely because elected leaders pay attention to their constituents as a way to assure their re-election. “The increase in leader incentives is an important driver” of change, write Monica Martinez-Bravo of Johns Hopkins University, Gerard Padro i Miquel of the London School of Economics, Nancy Qian of Yale University and Yang Yao of Peking University, in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper (pdf).
But China’s “oppressive and stagnant political climate” is evidence that the ruling Communist party has regressed in its approach to democracy and human rights, according to the Tiananmen Mothers.
“Ten years ago, the Party and country’s leaders at least verbally acknowledged that democracy and human rights were universal human values,” the group said.
“But today, the mainstream media and the Internet in mainland China have swept ‘universal values’ into the garbage heap, not to mention the idea that democracy and human rights are the only way for China to modernize,” it noted in a statement to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the crackdown:
China’s violations of human and civil rights have reached an extreme level, the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, systemic corruption is out of control, the moral bottom line is near collapse, sudden mass incidents keep occurring again and again…. Maintaining stability has become China’s top priority in order to preserve the firmness of the ruling party’s power. The massive institutional damage to the Chinese nation over this past decade is incalculable.
China’s economic development “could have provided a golden opportunity to initiate systemic political reform,” but the party’s “ossified bureaucrats…….let the historic opportunity for a peaceful transformation over these ten years slip by for nothing.
Check out the China media Bulletin, Freedom House’s weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People’s Republic of China, including: Censors allow greater discussion of Great Leap Forward * State TV host’s xenophobic remarks draw backlash * Microblog service unveils point-based self-censorship system * In United States, Chen Guangcheng embraces open media * ‘Men in Black 3’ censored, China tycoon buys U.S. theater chain