Sunday, October 03, 2010

Is Wen Jiabao playing with fire?

In what has been called his “boldest-ever call for liberalization,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in late August created a bit of a stir among Chinese liberals and conservatives when he raised the issue of political reform in his country’s modernization program.

That he would raise such a topic on what pundits have described as his “southern tour” — a veiled reference, if at all, to Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) visit to Southern China in 1992, ushering in a new era of economic development — on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, was probably no accident. The sheer symbolism of the anniversary, combined with the fact that Wen, a Deng protege, will be stepping down two years from now, must be weighing on the premier’s mind as he ponders his legacy.

Wen again raised the issue of political liberalization on a visit to the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept. 22, this time while answering questions from overseas Chinese media.

“I’ve previously said economic reform without the protection of political reform will not achieve complete success, and might even lose what’s been gained,” he said, adding, if perhaps vaguely: “Of course, we are trying to build a China with democracy and rule of law.”

What he had previously said, in his August speech, was that without the “guarantee” of political reform, “the fruits of the reform of the economic structure may be lost and it will be impossible to realize the goal of modernization.”

This op-ed, published in the Taipei Times on Saturday, continues here.

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