Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wen, Hu and Tibet

Year 2012 will be a special year. Not only because it will be an Olympic Year or the last year of the Mayan calendar, but also, perhaps more importantly, because the future of China will become clearer.
In 2012, the 18th CCP Congress will elect new members for the Central Committee, the Politburo and its Standing Committee (PBSC); a large proportion of the current members are due to retire being 65 years old or more (seven out nine PBSC members will have to say bye to active political life). The Fifth and Sixth-Generation cadres will then take over.
Already analysts are speculating on the composition of the Gang of Nine which will rule over the Middle Kingdom till 2017; and this, at an extremely crucial time for the survival of the one-party system.
In few months back, Willy Lam wrote in the China Brief an article entitled CCP Party Apparatchiks Gaining at the Expense of Technocrats: “The preeminence enjoyed by a cohort of party functionaries can have a lasting impact on not only the composition of China’s ruling team but also the country’s policy orientations in the coming decade or so.”
He pointed out one of power struggles currently going on: technocrats vs Party cadres. However some other commentators see a great deal of jockeying between the Communist Youth League faction and ‘princelings’, respectively led by President Hu Jintao and Vice-President Xi Jinping. Others speak about the importance of the Shanghai clique (of former President Jiang Zemin) or the all-powerful People’s Liberation lobby. One can only make wild guesses about the direction in which the white smoke will go during the fall of 2012. Will the wind blow to East or West? It is a one-billion yuan question.
Some water was recently added to the speculation mill when Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the State Council wrote an editorial in the People's Daily, the CCP mouthpiece; he penned an unexpected tribute to Hu Yaobang, the reformist (and disgraced) former Secretary General of the CCP.
Let us not forget that it is Hu’s death which triggered the Tiananmen protests in 1989; it ended in bloodshed still not acknowledged by Beijing.
In his editorial, Wen emotionally describes trip to southwestern China that he made in 1986 with Elder Hu (not a relative of the current President): “Comrade Yaobang's sincere, approachable, smiling face constantly appears before my eyes, and in my heart the cherished feelings [that] I've put aside for so many years flood in like a tide".
Considering that Hu Yaobang has not been fully rehabilitated after he sided with demonstrating students in 1986, the praise is rather surprising.
Wen admits that he remained in close contacts with Hu, even after his disgrace. He also reveals that every year since Hu’s death, he has visited Hu's home during the Lunar New Year holidays.
Wen recalls: “I personally experienced Comrade Yaobang's close ties with the people, his excellent way of being concerned for people's hardships... his open and candid, lofty moral character… I personally witnessed how he threw himself into his work day and night for the party's cause and for the people's interests... The way he behaved himself had a huge influence on my work, studies, and life.”
Jing Huang, a professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told the Wall Street Journal that Wen’s editorial indicates that the reformists may have "prevailed in a struggle over conservative forces and reached a new consensus” for political reforms. For him “Hu Yaobang is the perfect person to highlight the importance of political reform as well as the Party's leadership in the reform."
Some other China watchers believe that Wen is just interested in the image that he will leave behind after relinquishing power.
Whatever is the truth, the most startling aspect is that Wen’s article was published as an editorial of the People’s Daily, showing some kind of consensus at the top of the Party.
This reminded me that in 2008, I had written an Open Letter to Premier Wen Jiabao. I doubt if he ever read it, but I wanted to put on record that, if more reform-minded leaders would appear on the Chinese political scene, it would create a tsunami of change in the Middle Kingdom.
I wrote: “You may think that it is presumptuous on my part to send a letter to the Premier of one of the most powerful nations of the world, but I was born in the country which invented Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. …One of the reasons why I have decided to write to you is because you have served under two Party General Secretaries (Comrade Hu Yaobang and Comrade Zhao Ziyang) for whom I have a lot of respect.”
I reminded Wen that when he was Director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee in May1989, he walked down with Zhao Ziyang to meet the youth striking on Tiananmen Square. Zhao told the youth: “I have to ask you to think carefully about the future.” The students were given assurance that “all issues could be dealt with in a proper manner”.
I mentioned the violent events which had just occurred in Tibet [in March 2008]: “Do you not agree that the time has come to ‘think carefully about the future’ and look deeply into the true nature of the Tibetan ‘protest’?”
Adding: “Like the students in Tiananmen, the Dalai Lama today does not want to split China, but make it a nation where everyone lives in harmony. If you and President Hu are really serious about building a harmonious society, you should look at certain facts. Do not commit the mistake of the Elders who decided to send tanks to massacre the students on Tiananmen in June 1989. It did not solve any genuine problem.”
In 1980, under the leadership of Hu Yaobang, a historic visit to Lhasa by the CCP Working Group on Tibet took place. Wen was then posted in nearby Gansu province.
Under Hu, the Politburo was keen to make a fresh start and thought of settling China’s problems through consultation with the affected people
While in Lhasa, Hu Yaobang gave a powerful political speech to some 5,000 cadres. The motto was “Strive to build a united, prosperous and civilised new Tibet”. He was probably sincere.
I had thus concluded my Open Letter to Wen: “My appeal to you, Mr. Premier is that you should personally meet the Dalai Lama like Chairman Mao used to meet him in the fifties. You should discuss threadbare all issues related to Tibet and the People’s Republic of China. According to me, it is the only way to come out of the impasse and ‘think about the future’. After all, the Tibetan question has been sullying the image of People’s Republic for more than 50 years now. The time has come to find a durable solution agreeable to all.”
After the powerful earthquake which devastated the Gyekundo region of Eastern Tibet (Qinghai province), the Dalai Lama said he was eager to visit this province where he is born. Even if a trip does not materialize immediately, the Chinese Premier should instruct his Ambassador in Delhi to invite the Tibetan leader to the Chinese embassy for a cup of green tea and have an informal chat. Would it not be the best way to start healing old scars? Premier Wen would then be truly faithful to his mentor Hu; further it would bring China a good image, which it badly needs today.

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