Thursday, March 10, 2005

Hu's Next?

(I'm really sorry about that. But I've had this song theme running through the blog titles, and....okay, I'm still really sorry. Onward)

The abrupt departure of Hong Kong's Beijing appointed Tung Chee-Hwa signals the full consolidation of power by President Hu Jintao's administration and the end of outgoing leader Jiang Zemin's influence, according to China watchers.
Though the 67-year-old Tung insisted it was his idea to step down with two years left in his term, commentators said Beijing pressured him to get out following mounting public discontent, moving him to a high-level post as a government adviser.

If Hu was behind Tung's departure, it would be the Chinese leader's boldest move yet to put his own stamp on government following a drawn-out handover of power that began in 2002 when he replaced Jiang Zemin as head of the ruling Communist Party.

"If Jiang Zemin had stayed in power, I don't see this happening at all," said Steve Tsang, a Chinese politics specialist at Britain's Oxford University.

Quiet and more businesslike than the gregarious Jiang, Hu has promised more responsive government, with officials held accountable.

But until now, Jiang has lingered in the background despite his official departure. The 78-year-old former president held onto a powerful post until last year as chairman of a party commission that runs China's military. He didn't give up his last official title until this week, when he resigned as head of a ceremonial government military panel....

..."People usually see Tung as Jiang Zemin's man and the very fact that his resignation was accepted was a reflection that Jiang may no longer have any influence," said Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology...

...Jiang was picked in 1989 to rebuild a ruling party that was nearly torn apart by a power struggle after the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests. He was known as a master consensus-builder, but his government was accused of letting economic and social problems fester.

Hu's government already has shown its willingness to act swiftly when officials slip up. China's health minister and the mayor of Beijing were fired in 2003 for mishandling the SARS outbreak...

"What one has seen," Tsang said, "is a show of decisiveness and political acumen that was not so visible under Jiang Zemin — that they could see the problem and were prepared to deal with it."...

But the move doesn't reflect any concessions by Hu's government to pressure for democratic change or hold out the promise of more political openness on the communist mainland, said Tsang.

"I don't think Hu Jintao is any more open or liberal than Jiang Zemin," he said.

It also isn't clear how the new style might affect dealings with Taiwan, the self-ruled island that split from the communist mainland in 1949 following a civil war...

...Hu's government introduced the controversial bill that China's parliament is expected to pass on Monday authorizing a military attack if Taiwan pursues formal independence. The measure codifies into law longtime mainland threats to attack the island.

"We have seen Hu Jintao consolidating his position, and he is in more of a position to take a tougher stand or make more concessions toward Taipei," Tsang said. "But which way he will go still depends on politics and policies in Beijing."
To paraphrase Zhou Enlai, it is still too soon to say...

Over at Sinosplice is a very interesting conversation prompted by long time China blogger Hank's announcement that he was putting a halt to his blog, the "Laowai Monologues" because of work pressure and threats from local Chinese authorities. Many of the participants, myself included, mourned the end of Hank's blog and were saddened that censorship is still such in China that he felt he could no longer safely continue it. And then an anonymous blogger made an interesting point. "Is it just me, or is it not the case that anyone, in any country, who writes negatively about his colleagues, particularly his boss, in public can expect to suffer job insecurity if it comes to their attention? If I was in the UK blogging about a crap boss I would fully expect to lose my job if it came to light, regardless of how crap he was, or otherwise."

Other Chinese commentators went on to say that certainly a Chinese American in the US would be hesitant to speak out strongly against Bush, or that circumstances in America could change in the future for the worst in terms of being able to freely express one's political opinions.

Regardless of how much I despise Bush and hate the direction he's taken this country, the damage he's done to the Constitution and to the rule of law, his codifying torture, for god's sake - these things violate the very best aspects of this nation's fundamental character - still, you simply can't equate equate the repression of political speech here and in China. Bush is a cowardly, incompetent, draft-dodging, cocaine-abusing, sadistic little chickenhawk weasel...nyah, nyah, nyah...


People in the States have gotten fired for what they've posted on their blogs about their day jobs. I work in a corporation and I can tell you - you don't have the same protections in a corporate environment in terms of speech, search and seizure and an expectation of privacy that you do outside of the workplace. I may not get thrown in jail for what I say or do in the workplace, but I could certainly get fired for it. Some of these rules are only appropriate - there's no place for harrassment and hateful speech in the workplace. But getting fired for what one might say about one's job in one's private blog on one's own time?

Well, I guess the argument is that such an attitude indicates a disgruntled employee, who isn't a part of the "team" and is potentially damaging the company's reputation. Why should a company continue to employ such a person?

Which brings me back to China. What we've seen of Hu so far, of his governing style, reminds me somewhat of a corporate executive: demanding accountability, punishing incompetence and not permitting much external criticism. Certainly there are some positives and strengths to this style of governing.

But public service is not the same as working for a corporation. We've been going down this road, this mania for the privatization of everything, even those things which constitute the greater public good, those things held in common for all of us: our infrastructure, our air and water and wilderness, our schools, our prisons, even our armed forces. I think it's fair to say that overall the results so far have not been promising (for example, for a look at the sad state of America's infrastructure, go here). Some things belong in the public sphere, not in the hands of for profit industry.

And we've seen what happens when corporate power is not held in check by laws and public institutions. You end up with Enrons, corrupt, unrestrained beasts that lie and cheat and rip us off, lay waste to peoples' lives, whose officers enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us, who buy political influence and manipulate laws so they can further corrupt the system for their benefit.

President Hu may be an honest man. Perhaps even an incorruptible one. But what if his successor is not?

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