Thursday, 2 August 2012

Becoming More Liberal in the PLA?

General Liu Yazhou adding a dose of liberalism to the PLA
It is interesting to note that the People's Liberation Army has promoted a liberal lieutenant into a full general. Does this mean the PLA is trying to soften its image towards the rest of the world?

Liu Yazhou was promoted Monday along with three others. He once warned his hawkish military colleagues that China must embrace American-style democracy or accept a Soviet-style collapse.

He has also supported democracy since the early 1980s when he was a military reporter for the PLA. And when he wasn't working he wrote military novels that enjoyed moderate success.

How could he be able to rise with such liberal beliefs? It's probably thanks to his princeling background as his father Liu Jiande was a senior army official and his wife was the youngest daughter of the late President Li Xiannian.

Liu is also proficient in English, having learned it while at university and read a wide range of Western works which probably instilled Western thinking in his ideas.

"Liu was a torchbearer who helped the Chinese people keep up with the world's military advances through his articles in the 1980s, as the country was waking up from the Cultural Revolution," said Ni Lexiong, director of a research centre on sea power and defense policy at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

"Liu's promotion indicates the party and the PLA want to polish an image that they are going to recruit people with different political views."

In 2009 Liu gave an internal speech to mid-level officers, approving of the decision of two former PLA generals to refuse to suppress protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

He also wrote an essay in 2004 entitled "Western Discourses" that urged Beijing to launch political reforms, and two years ago Hong Kong-based political affairs magazine Phoenix Weekly interviewed him.

"If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to put those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish," he was quoted as saying.

"The secret of the United States' success is neither due to Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it. A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most urgent thing; without it there can be no sustainable growth."

Here's more of this thoughts from the same interview:

Besides the power of money, what power has China's continuing economic strength and increasing growth brought? China's unprecedented ability to throw financial resources at large scale governance plans continues to increase, to the point where the old brand-name developed Western countries are left staring in disbelief. But having a lot of money only shows the growth of a nation's hard power. It does not show there has been any corresponding increase in soft power, because there are many problems that cannot be solved with a pile of money.

Today, one thing that leads people to be anxious about Chinese society is that from top to bottom, anything is possible if you have money. There is a sense of enthusiasm that money can take care of anything. It brings with it a desire for instant gratification, a manner of believing and behaving as if it is acceptable to use money as a panacea, at the expense of ignoring the crucial details and improving how we are perceived.

By using money to grease the wheels, you lie down with dogs, and you get up with fleas. You don't end up with people who share your values. In the end, often what you get is people scrambling for their own personal gain, and the price just keeps going up. An example is the investing that China is doing in Africa. The way that Chinese businessmen use money to bribe officials at home had become endemic. But the ability of African governments to administer and control their societies can never compare with ours.

The money makes life better for officials, but it does not do anything for the average person, and it is common for local tribes of guerrillas to toss a bomb or send a letter to blackmail someone. In addition, using money to get things done not only makes the officials' appetites even greater, it also makes the average person have an extremely negative impression of China's government and Chinese enterprises.

Relying solely on the power of money will not further China's national interests abroad over the long term. On the contrary, it cannot further domestic safety and stability. People who blindly worship the power of money are backward and fatuous people. No matter whether it is used to pacify domestic affairs or expand influence abroad. Only people that have both cultural and ideological superiority, in addition to economic power, are a truly strong people, people worthy of admiration, people who can inspire others.

We have high hopes for Liu to influence the PLA and senior officials with more liberal ways now that President Hu Jintao's repressive administration is almost over.

The last thing China needs is more suppression and more liberalization otherwise it is isolating itself even further not only from the rest of the world but from its own people and the reality of the issues the country is facing.

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