China: a long way to freedom
Interview with Alexander Gabuyev, UN Millennium Project.
So, as you probably know, in the Chinese Communist Party there are elections, but the result of these elections is already pre-decided by quite a few of party elders. So, there is an inner circle – about 100 people or a bit more – who really are into the decision-making process. So, these people include the current leaders, members of the politburo, chiefs of the largest corporations, and so on, and the former leaders who act in their private capacity but still have enormous power and influence because many of them have their proxies all around the bureaucratic hierarchy in China – they have their people in the military, in state-run companies, in the party, and so on. So, Jiang Zemin and several of the top leaders from the former era, like 1980s and so on, are still very influential and try to back up their candidates and lobby for them.
I remember you were telling me whom Jiang Zemin backs and who is his team?
This is a very curious subject because the loyalty in China is structured not around some ideological boundaries, as we see in the United States, but rather on different identities and personal linkages, so this is a version of patron-client relationship and in the current Chinese leadership we can see at least three different clans, so the largest groups of the officials. First of them are exactly the so-called Shanghai clique, so these are the people who rose with Jiang Zemin when he was appointed secretary general of the party, these are the people who were transferred to the Chinese central leadership by Jiang Zemin and these are all his old friends and cronies who worked with him in Shanghai, they are mainly Shanghai natives or natives of the neighboring provinces like Zhenjiang or Hangzhou. They favor western route of capitalism, undoubted economic growth, favor state-run huge corporations, favor the development of the Eastern Pacific coastal regions first and they think that the drive of the economy, the growth of the economy should be undoubted and not measured by any kind of social stability, consideration, and so on.
From what I saw when they were handling the recent economic crisis, remember the first thing they did – they started to promote inner consumer demand, home consumer demand and they were giving subsidies to people just to boost their buying ability, which still seems that they are “socially oriented” if the description is correct.
That is true, that is one of the main emphases of the current leadership, so this is a kind of social democracy or socialism, but many measures of this sort are already taken also in Europe, like you see all the subsidies you get if you get unemployed in Germany or somewhere in Sweden.
But those programs are being cut now.
Yes, sure, but still if you compare the absolute numbers, the sums the people get ‑ it is different. Though, if you compare the purchasing power – it is, of course, the different picture. But still you are right, there is a very distinct point on social harmony, equality, harmonious society, and so on, so these are all slogans promoted by the Communist Party right now.
And they are still supporting it in action, right?
Yes, they are still supporting it in action not only because of some ideological reasons but still China is a country with huge gaps among the population groups and between different regions and given the scope of the problems China is facing and the size of the country, it could be very threatening to the regime’s stability and that is why it should be not only rhetoric but also quite a detailed action plan to combat these illnesses like inequality, and so on.
And do you observe any sprouts of democracy in the Chinese society or perhaps there is already some democracy in the Chinese way?
I would say that China is a much more free society than it used to be 15-20 years ago. So, just because of the economic freedom and mass of personal freedom the state allows to the people, so you can basically listen to the music you want, you can have personal relationship with whomever you want, and so on. So, this is much easier than it used to be, though there is still some quite huge political control and if some case has a political side in it, it will definitely be monitored by the state police and different governmental agencies. So, they are pretty much more monitor the content and they do not want to have the democratic coverage to be allowed there. But the Chinese start to experiment with democracy, so basically they have several programs of elections ‑ put local chiefs in several localities, both in rich and in poor inner provinces, and they really monitored this experiment. So, as I know the Chinese system, this experiment could last for several years, but you still see a definite shift in these directions, so it might not be elections like what we see in Europe or in the United States, but the system tries to become more democratic because the society becomes more diverse and to answer all of these challenges and expectations the party and the political system should be more diverse as well. So, they really try to incorporate some elements of democracy, though we could say it is very selective. So, the ultimate goal is constructing a democracy with the Chinese characteristic and that means – with the party at the very top.