Saturday, 1 October 2011

Wen's Campaign Continues

Premier Wen Jiabao continues to be the lone wolf crying for changes in the Party system.

Last night on the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Wen made a speech pledging to address the country's biggest social issues, including inflation, the growing income gap, unemployment, food safety, corruption, environmental destruction and social injustice.

"We will make great efforts to guarantee and perfect democracy and resolve the problems that most concern the people and that most directly involve their interests," he said in remarks published on government websites.

"We will make great efforts to advance the opening and reform and continue to push forward economic, political, cultural and social system reform. We will make great efforts to safeguard social justice, and ensure the people's democratic rights and judicial fairness."

Of course Wen doesn't mean democracy in the western sense of multiparty elections but rather inviting more of the party elite more say in ruling the country.

This building of consensus hasn't really worked for Wen, as his rather liberal remarks seem to be sidelined particularly when he says them abroad. But this time his speech was published for the record which means someone sanctioned it.

When I started living in China four years ago, I found the premier a refreshing figure who really knew what needed to change and actually spoke out about them.

But it soon became evident that Wen is quite powerless in trying to implement changes to the system and few are willing to back him and his ideas. Also he would say one thing but then do another, as the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 was a good example. When he visited the quake-hit region, he promised the government would do all it could to help the victims.

However when local activists tried to investigate why so many government-built schools collapsed killing many students, they were jailed for subverting the Chinese state.

Wen knows his time is running out -- he must hand over the reins of power to his successor, expected to be Li Keqiang next year. And so he's trying to use any opportunity he can to speak out.

According to Yu Jie, author of China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, the premier knows the system is falling apart.

"There is only one objective for all that Wen Jiabao has done since he took the reins, and it is to 'act'. He knows that this old car -- the Chinese Communist Party -- is going to fall apart," Yu writes in his book.

"He himself is not a driver with the charisma and ability to stop the car or switch path... As a result, all he can do is to be like a puppet, acting as long as he can."

So are his pronouncements for democracy a heart-felt monologue? Or is it a warning foreshadowing what may come if his words are not heeded?

Only time will tell.

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