Dreams of reform remain just that in China
China's new leader Xi Jinping has dashed the hopes of those Chinese who long for political reform in his recent warning against a Soviet-style collapse in his country and stressing of the need for the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) grip on the military to avert such a danger.
The CCP chief made this tough remark in one of his internal speeches to party cadres during his southern tour to Shenzhen and Guangzhou last December. The content of this speech was disseminated to county-level officials.
Extracts of the speech were posted on the website of Beijing Spring, a New York-based Chinese-language magazine.
The crucial part in Xi's speech was his analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union and proposal of measures the CCP should adopt to avoid the same fate. This is how he read the Soviet story.
"Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate and the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was their losing the communist beliefs and ideals," he said.
"The total negation of the history of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party, as well as Lenin and Stalin, was an engagement in historic nihilism. It confused the people’s thoughts and rendered useless the party organisation at all levels," he said.
"We learn from the Soviet experience that we have to strengthen the grip of the party on the military. The Soviet army de-politicised itself, dissociated itself from the party, and changed its nature (from a party army) to a national army. This means stripping the party of the ability to defend itself," he said.
"Although initially there were a few who tried to save the Soviet Union ... the tool of dictatorship was not in their hands. The army was indifferent and tried to maintain its so-called political neutrality," he said.
"In this way, a great party collapsed overnight. Proportionally, the Soviet Communist Party had more members than we do, yet no one was man enough to step forward and resist," he lamented.
Since Xi attributed the Soviet collapse to the loss of communist beliefs and ideals, it follows that to avoid the same fate, the CCP should strengthen them. His solution lies in educating party cadres, to inculcate in them these ideals and beliefs.
"The communist ideal is the spirit of every CCP member. The communist ideal is the calcium of every CCP member. If CCP members lack this spiritual calcium, they would suffer from rickets and waver," he said.
He placed the communist dream above the Chinese dream. "The Chinese dream is our ideal. Of course, we communists should have a higher ideal, which is the realisation of communism," he said.
"Some think that communism is too far away ... and therefore lose their belief. These people fail to see how we come to be what we are today."
The term "realisation of communism" has not been used since China's reform and opening up started in 1978. But it is enshrined in the CCP Constitution, which says: "The realisation of communism is the highest ideal and ultimate goal of the party."
Addressing the calls by liberal party elders for political reform, Xi argued: "Our reform has direction, stand and principle. Some people define our reform in terms of the West's universal values and political system. This is a tampering of concepts and misinterprets the meaning of our reform."
He added: "Of course we will uphold the banner of reform, but it is reform that moves us forward on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics; we will not walk the closed and ossified old path or the evil path of changing our banner."
Responding to criticism that China's reform is lopsided and that political reform lags behind other reforms, Xi retorted: "I don't agree with those who say that our reform is falling behind in some areas. There are things that we will never change and ought not to change, no matter how much time passes."
He urged every CCP member to be confident of their way, theory and system.
To dissident writer Gao Yu, "this means that Xi will defend one-party rule". She told the Apple Daily newspaper of Hong Kong: "His reform merely aims at strengthening the CCP's authority and legitimacy, not a change in the system. Xi doesn't want the regime to perish under his watch. The problem is, without political reform, there is no way to wipe out corruption."
Dissident scholar Chen Ziming, branded by the CCP as the "black hand" behind the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy demonstrations, said Xi's speech deviated too far from the expectations of the Chinese intelligentsia.
"Before the 18th party congress, it was said that Xi was reform-minded. Yet, in this speech, not even once was political reform mentioned. In fact, since the 18th party congress, Xi has not made any reference to political reform in any public speeches," he said in an interview with New York-based New Tang Dynasty TV.
In a separate interview with Apple Daily, Chen noted that Xi spoke repeatedly about the Chinese dream of national revival. Now, the CCP chief has added the dream of realising communism.
"These two dreams are vastly different. Leninist-Stalinist style dictatorship is certainly not the Chinese dream," he said.