The Magazine

The Party Line

Dec 2, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 12 • By ELLEN BORK
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Another sign of the plenum’s real impact is reflected in the announcement that General Secretary Xi is setting up a committee on state security that will give him greater control over not only foreign and defense policy but also internal security matters. While Xi’s personal power is bound to increase, there is no indication that his “hands-on” approach is intended to advance the rule of law or political pluralism. An anticorruption campaign he unleashed earlier this year appears designed more to sideline political rivals than to tackle abuses. In fact, over the past several months, leading members of the New Citizens’ Movement, which seeks disclosure of officials’ assets, among other things, have been targeted for persecution. Such independent anticorruption initiatives were explicitly mentioned in a secret party memorandum, known as “Document Number 9,” rallying party cadres against “Western forces hostile to the country and dissidents within the country.” 

A few months before he was detained by Chinese authorities in late 2008, Liu Xiaobo wrote an essay arguing that the 1980s political reforms for which the Communist party took credit were brought about by pressure “from the bottom up” rather than a desire from China’s top leaders to change the system. That vital observation about what has brought about “reform” from China’s Communist leaders in the past should be kept in mind while assessing the initiatives announced last week. Misunderstanding developments in an opaque, one-party dictatorship can lead to misplaced hopes for the country’s future and blindness to the real force for change.

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