The recent dual controversies exploding out of China in the last month have reinforced the importance of democratic political reform in the largest country in the world. China’s leadership should be aware that they are playing with fire by postponing elections for national office. The scandals of the fall of Bo Xilai and the harrowing escape of the ‘blind lawyer’ should be a sign that delaying reform is no longer possible. Without reform, China risks everything it has gained in the last 30 years. Real change through the holding of elections for all levels of government is the only way to unleash the full potential of the Chinese people.
Today’s news about the fate of Chen Guangcheng, also know as the ‘blind lawyer’, has electrified the world democratic community. Chen is widely known within China and around the world for his heroic advocacy for the disabled and for filing a class action lawsuit for victims of forced abortions and sterilization by the Chinese dictatorship. Chen has been repeatedly abused during his time in jail and a long list of his family members are either in jail or worse. His recent escape from confinement, apparently with help from guards, is undoubtedly an embarrassment for the Chinese dictatorship but also a reflection of the unnecessary political risks they continue to expose themselves to by continuing to delay reform.
Yet, the other controversy in China of the last month is even more proof that the dictatorship’s increasingly repressive tactics carry their own risks. Only a few months ago, Bo Xilai was set to be admitted to China’s most elite organization, the all-powerful nine member Politboro Standing Committee of the Communist Party. Bo and his allies were popular among China’s leadership for taking on local mafias and building an omnipresent surveillance system. Yet today Bo is in the custody of the same dictatorial police state that he once sought to rule.
Bo is accused of using that same system of surveillance against the Politboro leadership and somehow is also implicated in a strange story involving Bo’s wife and the murder of a British man who the British government proclaimed was ‘not a spy’. Bo’s family and friends have been ostracized and removed from posts of power, even jailed. That the political system could exact such a fate upon a high profile person and his entire family without public involvement shows the cutthroat nature of politics in China and how dangerous the game they are playing is.
Future of Chinese Democracy
The changes that have taken place in China in the last 30 years represent one of the most dynamic economic shifts ever undertaken. But the danger of an influx of massive new wealth, inter-leadership struggles and the rise and fall of political families is enough to make reform an urgent need for the Chinese people. The Chinese leadership can begin the necessary reforms tomorrow if it wished but there are those inside the halls of power who resist change. If China is going to avoid the political icebergs that are ahead, its leadership must steer a clear path towards democracy. The Chinese people are as capable of governing themselves as anyone else. The Chinese dictatorship must be brought to this realization quickly.