Corruption threatens party & state, says Hu, but China ‘will never copy West’

China’s outgoing president Hu Jintao today insisted that the ruling Communist Party maintain its monopoly on power in order to battle corruption and growing social unrest.

In a speech that may disappoint reformists, he “outlined a deeply conservative vision for the future of the world’s most populous nation, insisting that state dominance of the economy and one-party rule will be maintained,” according to one observer.

“We must uphold leadership of the party,” Hu told more than 2,300 officials at the opening of the party’s 18th National Congress.

“Combating corruption and promoting political integrity, which is a major political issue of great concern to the people, is a clear-cut and long-term political commitment of the party,” he said.

“If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.”

Hu appeared to pour cold water on some analysts’ expectations of incremental democratic reform.

“We should … give full play to the strength of the socialist political system and draw on the political achievements of other societies. However, we will never copy a Western political system,” he said.

According to Zhang Jian, a political scientist at Peking University, the report sent “a very strong message to any expectations of reform: we are not going to change; we are going to stay where we are.”

Hu referred to “socialism with Chinese characteristics” no less than 78 times in his speech, in marked contrast to his address to the 17th party congress five years ago when he used the word minzhu – democracy – 69 times.

“It was a rather conservative report,” said Jin Zhong, the editor of Open Magazine, an independent Hong Kong journal that specializes in Chinese politics. “There’s nothing in there that suggests any breakthrough in political reforms.”

Hu’s speech offered little to encourage observers who believe the system must reform and open up.

“Today the most important thing is political reform,” says Ren Yi, the grandson of reform-minded former leader Ren Zhongyi. “All Chinese, including those inside the system, all agree that it’s the next big thing.”

Another princeling, as the progeny of senior officials are known, puts it more bluntly: “The best time for China is over and the entire system needs to be overhauled.”

This son of a former government minister says the party’s authority is “declining at the same time that the economic backdrop has become much worse”. He added that without new rules of the game, Chinese politics would “descend into chaos”.

“I did not expect any big breakthrough, but this time there is not even a small breakthrough,”said Chen Ziming, an independent Beijing-based scholar.

The notion that the ruling party will combat graft is “a joke,” said Beijing-based veteran journalist Gao Yu.

“These guys have been in power for a decade, under the leadership of the Party, and corruption is far worse now than it was 10 years ago, let alone during the 1989 pro-democracy movement,” she told RFA.

“It’s far worse than during the administration of Jiang Zemin, and they’ve been focusing on this, focusing on that, on improving the quality of Party members,” Gao said.

Hu told delegate that the party needed to improve the way it “manages” society in order to combat social unrest and “went to great lengths to recite the party’s swelling canon of ideological teachings.”

“The system of theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a system of scientific theories that includes Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development, and this system represents the party’s adherence to and development of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought,” he said.

Some reformers hope that Hu’s likely heir Xi Jinping will deliver some of the democratic reforms hinted at by outgoing premier Wen Jiabao.

“Although Wen kept calling for political reform, China’s political system in the last 10 years hasn’t developed much towards democracy, freedom, and law and order,” said He Weifang, a liberal law professor at Beijing University. “I think it’s a stagnated decade,” He said. “Economically, there’s some improvement since China became the [world’s] second-largest economy, but the structural problems remain unresolved.”

Any would-be reformers will face fierce resistance from party conservatives, leftists and vested interests, say observers.

“Chinese leaders compete in what one diplomat describes as ‘the shark pool of shark pools’,” notes analyst David Pilling. “Those who eventually swim to the bloodied surface are tough. Above all, they know how to avoid offence. Mr Xi rose to the pinnacle of the 83m-member Communist party by not stepping out of line.’

China’s vested interests are a roadblock to change. When leaders sought to improve labour rights, exporters cried bloody murder. So entangled is power and money that the incumbents resisting change and the party supposedly fostering it are one and the same thing.

Hu stressed the need to enhance civic morality and to “exalt the true, the good and the beautiful and reject the false, the evil and the ugly”. Such blandness was “a fitting finale to 10 years of Huism,” said Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney.

“When you think of the extraordinary events going on, and put it beside Obama’s victory speech, you realize we are dealing with an elite from another planet.”

Hu’s speech today “is intended to set the tone for party ideology over the next five years,” says the FT’s Jamil Anderlini:  

Hu’s speech, however, was punctuated by references to Marxism-Leninism and “Mao Zedong thought” and suggested that the party has no intention of relaxing its grip on politics or the economy.

“We must not take the old path that is closed and rigid, nor must we take the evil road of changing flags and banners,” Mr Hu said in a reference to bold political reforms.

That phrase was widely ridiculed on Weibo, China’s most popular microblog. “So we will walk in place until we die,” wrote one user.

As the Congress gets underway, “the 91-year-old Leninist party is seriously considering more democratic procedures to select its leadership,” writes Minxin Pei:

Some leaders apparently support “inner-party democracy” as a way to bolster the Party’s standing among its own members and prepare it for democratic competition. This idea has been kicking around for some time as a way to mollify demands for political reforms, but it can’t solve the problems of authoritarian rule.

“Reform of the political structure is an important part of China’s overall reform. We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure and make people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice,” Hu said today.

But it is “difficult to imagine that inner-party democracy can help protect civil liberties that are closely associated with democracy, and that are so wanting in China,” writes Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a non-resident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund:

The real crisis the Communist Party faces today is one of legitimacy, and inner-party democracy is no solution. The Party’s corruption and persistent habits of concealing policy failures have destroyed its credibility. Its self-serving claims to rule can no longer persuade China’s increasingly well-educated population that they are fated to live under autocracy in perpetuity. The only way to fulfill China’s needs is actual democracy.

The ruling party must also address the toxic legacy of Communist China’s founder, observers suggest.

“If China’s recent progress is to be sustained, it’s time, at long last, for the dragon to be slain and for the beauty of all that is best in China to meet the best that the modern world has to offer,” writes Paul Monk, the founder and director of Austhink Consulting and an associate of China Policy.

Mao Zedong was not the dragon slayer. He was the very embodiment of the dragon. Liang Qichao and Liang Sicheng, Lu Xun and Hu Shih and, let it be said, the imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, leading author of the suppressed Charter 08, are the real dragon slayers of modern China. Their time has come and we need to collectively recast our perception of China, our dialogue with China and our future relationship with China in terms of their vision.

Hu’s basic message is for the next leaders to follow his path until they can go no further, then the government can reassess things, said Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre.

“His legacy will be consensus-led, collective leadership in an age in which Chinese society was undergoing fast, profound and disorientating changes,” he said:

One word which leaders have referred to regularly is “stability”, something that has been fundamental to Mr Hu’s decade in power, when he steered a steady, but deeply conservative path. For most of that decade in power, China was the fastest growing major economy in the world, with double-digit rates of economic growth every year. Mr Hu’s decade in China has substantially improved the living standards of most Chinese. Keeping economic growth on track is the central plank of maintaining support for the Communist Party, which claims its legitimacy from a revolution which took place in 1949.


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As Assad vows he’ll ‘live and die’ in Syria, SNC ‘kills’ Seif-Ford initiative?

President Bashar al-Assad today insisted he would “live and die” in Syria and threatened that any foreign intervention would have catastrophic repercussions for region and beyond.

His comments, a clear riposte to this week’s proposal by British Premier David Cameron that Assad could be allowed a safe exit and exile, coincided with a Doha meeting of Syria’s opposition at which the Syrian National Council reportedly vetoed a Western-backed initiative to restructure and re-launch the movement.

“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” he told Russia Today TV. “I am Syrian; I was made in Syria. I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

The SNC claims to have killed a U.S.-backed proposal from veteran Syrian dissident Riad Seif for a more representative, inclusive and broadly-based opposition movement. Its move has raised concerns that the opposition to Assad’s regime is falling apart.

“It’s being asked to reduce itself in size, which means not take a leading role as the political opposition inside Syria,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. “And it’s being asked to do that with no real guarantees that more support will be forthcoming.”

Key opposition factions with strong followings inside the country pulled out of the plan, which was due to be presented at a conference in Doha, Qatar, today. Three of the dissident bodies seen as integral to the U.S.-backed initiative said yesterday that they had refused to attend, diplomats and opposition figures told The Daily Telegraph.

“There are too many people against this initiative for it to work now,” said a Western diplomatic source.

The SNC leadership came under fire in Doha from female activists after elections failed to promote a single woman to its 41-member decision-making executive.

“Women were active in the uprising from the start,” AP reports:

Last year, human rights lawyer Razan Zaytouni (left), who went into hiding shortly after the revolt began, was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for risking her life by breaking through the government’s media blackout to report on the brutal crackdown in Syria. The award, named after the slain Russian journalist, is given annually to a woman human rights defender standing up for victims in a conflict zone.

SNC members “harangued” Seif at the Doha meeting, “with some accusing him of pushing a U.S. agenda to sideline the Islamist-dominated SNC,” Reuters reports:

“Seif was not at all convincing yesterday. He told the council he was going ahead with the initiative with or without them,” an SNC source said.

Opposition sources said many thought Seif’s offer of 24 out of 60 seats would leave the SNC underrepresented in a proposed rebel assembly, which would later choose an interim government and coordinate with armed rebels to usher in a post-Assad era. But the sources also said the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential group within the SNC, had signaled its support.

“There are tensions and fears inside the SNC that they will cease to be relevant if they agree to the initiative. They want guarantees,” one SNC source said

Countries including Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who have helped to arm rebels, as well as the United States and other Western powers, have lost patience with the fractious SNC and told it to make room for what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called those “in the front lines fighting and dying”.

The SNC’s four-day conference is an effort to overhaul its structure and rebut charges that it is unrepresentative of the broader opposition. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the group can no longer be considered to be the opposition’s “visible leader” and that the administration had “recommended names and organizations which we believe should be included in any leadership structure.”

The “Seif-Ford” initiative, after Robert Ford, the US special envoy, has led to accusations of foreign interference in the opposition’s internal affairs.

“Some are calling this the Robert Ford plan or an American plan,” said the SNC’s Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “This is just promises from the Americans that no one is believing. They don’t need Seif to come with a plan. This is unrealistic.”

In a meeting held late last night, SNC members reportedly interrogated Mr Seif on the initiative, and the list of names proposed to lead it. “We asked him why some of the names were on the list and he said he didn’t know. The West pushed this on him. How can you endorse a plan when you can’t defend it?” said an SNC member who had been at the meetings.

“Everyone feels that this initiative is imposed. They’ve weaved the cloth, but now there is no one to wear it,” said Ahmed Zaidan, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Council, a body that coordinates with armed groups inside Syria.

The opposition meeting will go ahead, but any leadership body is likely to have a majority from the SNC, which has little influence on the ground. “It may secure more funding but [the conflict] is about winning the support of the street to regain control. And the street does not support them,” said a diplomatic source.

Seif believes his Syrian National Initiative would help incorporate locally-based groups and rebel fighters into a more inclusive structure.

His proposal is the first concerted attempt to merge opposition forces to help end a 19-month-old conflict that has killed over 32,000 people, devastated swathes of Syria, and threatens to widen into a regional sectarian conflagration. The Initiative would also create a Supreme Military Council, a Judicial Committee and a transitional government-in-waiting of technocrats – along the lines of Libya’s Transitional National Council, which managed to galvanize international support for its successful battle to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

The SNC’s veto is unlikely to smooth relations between internally-based and exiled groups, say observers.

“It’s difficult to see how rebels doing the fighting would be happy taking orders from Syrians sitting in five-star hotels,said an analyst in Doha.

SNC figures in Doha played down the role of hardline Islamists, or Salafis, including former al Qaeda fighters in Iraq and other jihadis from abroad for whom Syria is the latest cause celebre. They are accused of beheading soldiers and others seen as pro-Assad and committing other abuses.

“The issue is not the Salafis, the problem is Bashar al- Assad. If we have the capacity to support the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, the extremist element will diminish,” said former SNC president Burhan Ghalioun. “We need arms and until now we haven’t had what we need. We need new arms, anti-aircraft arms. From the international community, we’ve seen many promises. But we wait and see.”

But other Syrian activists are expressing concern at the growing influence of extremist groups, the increasingly sectarian thrust of the conflict and an uptick in anti-Americanism.  

“Presently, each community in Syria, including the Alawite community, is having a minor civil war of its own pitting pro- and anti-Assad groups against each other, write Ammar Abdulhamid and Khawla Yusuf, citing infighting amongst Palestinians, Kurds and even the Alawites. 

“Border crossings with Turkey are controlled by Islamist groups, even though some tend to succeed in covering up their identity giving an impression of moderation, and even secularity,” they note. “Aid going to the rebels across the Turkish border, therefore, is being filtered through Jihadi elements. It’s no wonder that most of it end up with more extremist groups.”

Anti-Americanism is rife in all quarters. But while some rebels are pinning their hopes on a new more robust American policy of support following the upcoming elections, a policy that does not go beyond supplying rebels with arms, and that is not based on a serious understanding of the continually changing dynamics on the ground is bound to bring much disenchantment, feeding rather than alleviating anti-American tendencies.

The SNC’s move may jeopardize any new U.S. initiative to provide arms to the Syrian opposition, a move the Obama administration has hitherto resisted.

“I believe President Obama in his second term will be more assertive, perhaps from the first day after the election, not waiting for inauguration, to increase the lethality and the amount of weaponry going to the opposition in Syria,” said Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But SNC head Abdelbaset Sieda said that his group does not believe international assistance linked to restructuring the opposition will be forthcoming.

“We faced this situation before, when we formed the SNC (last year),” he told The Associated Press. “There were promises like that, but the international community in fact did not give us the support needed for the SNC to do its job.”

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‘Exporting’ democracy?

The Arab Spring presents the US with more difficult choices than the post-Communist transitions in east-central Europe in balancing democracy and human rights with economic, security and other strategic interests.

“But the fact that it’s inconsistent doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant,” says the Carnegie Endowment’s Tom Carothers. He joins Georgetown University’s Charles Kupchan in correcting a number of distortions (not least from the program host) and misconceptions of democracy assistance.

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Equal citizenship rights in Egypt’s new constitution?

After Egypt’s climatic Arab Awakening, the Egyptian people were tasked with the establishment of self-rule.  Indeed, the events after the fall of the Mubarak regime were, in many ways, more tumultuous than the Tahrir Square protests themselves. Now, the focus is on the recently-released constitutional draft and how the constitution grapples with heated debate surrounding freedom of religion, expression, and speech and equal rights for women. 

What are the internal dynamics within the Constitutional Assembly, who are the major players behind the draft, and who has voiced opposition?  After the rise of Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party and the Salafi Nour Party, how have these movements evolved their ideology and practices “on the ground” and how has this impacted their advocacy within the Constitutional Assembly?  To what degree have non-Islamist parties had a voice in the constitutional process and, moreover, will they have real impact on its adoption or rejection? 

The status of Egypt’s constitution and how Congress can act to preserve equal citizenship rights will addressed at a briefing sponsored by the International Religious Freedom Caucus. 

Speakers will include Dr. Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, who advised and promoted the Egyptian Bill of Rights and Freedoms, a “normative, guiding legal and policy structure for Egypt.”  The Bill of Rights, the first of its kind in the Arab world, provides eleven principles including rule of law, gender equality, and prohibition of discrimination based on religion, gender, ethnicity, or belief.   

The meeting will also hear from Dr. Kurt Werthmuller, author of Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218-1250 who serves as an Adjunct Fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.  In his work for the Hudson Institute, Dr. Werthmuller has researched political, social, and religious trends in the status of religious minorities in the Arab world.   

The third speaker is Mark Salah Morgan who is a board member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association.  Mr. Morgan is the co-author of “To Stop Corruption, Egypt Needs a Freedom of Information Law.” 

International Religious Freedom Caucus Briefing 

The Preservation of Equal Citizenship Rights in Egypt:

The Constitutional Assembly and the Egyptian Bill of Rights and Freedoms 

November 8, 2012, 3:30-4:30pm

2212 Rayburn Building

Capitol Hill

Washington, DC

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In Mistrust We Trust: Can Transparency Revive Democracy?

Despite the hope and excitement that has accompanied the recent transitions in places such as the Middle East and Burma, there is a growing sense of crisis in Western democracies. Although our societies are freer and more democratic than ever, trust in democratic institutions is in decline. While the rights of citizens in the West are better protected than ever, there is a growing feeling, particularly in Europe, that voters are losing their power. The movement for greater transparency has been one response aimed at addressing this crisis of confidence. 

In his presentation, Ivan Krastev will examine whether the movement for more transparency can succeed in empowering voters and restoring the public’s trust in democratic institutions. He will argue that while transparency has an important role to play in reforming democracies, the current hope that transparency can cure all democratic ills is misplaced. 

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy 

cordially invites you to a presentation entitled 

In Mistrust We Trust: Can Transparency Revive Democracy? 


Ivan Krastev

Chairman, Center for Liberal Democratic Studies (Bulgaria)

Bosch Public Policy Fellow, Transatlantic Academy 

moderated by

Marc F. Plattner

International Forum for Democratic Studies 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 2:00–4:00 p.m. 1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Monday, November 16


Ivan Krastev is the chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is currently a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C. He has been executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans and editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy. He is a member of the editorial board and frequent contributor to the Journal of Democracy and also serves on the International Forum for Democratic Studies’ Research Council. In 2010, he delivered the seventh annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World in Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Canada. His books include: Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on Politics of Anti-Corruption (2004) and The Anti-American Century (2006).


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