Reforming Reform in China

Brad Alsup /

The head of China’s People’s Congress announced Friday that any movements toward a Western-style democracy were off the table.

Within the announcement, Wu Bangguo specifically ruled out multi-party elections, the division of the People’s Congress into two houses, separate branches of government with power to balance one another, and formal privatization. According to Wu, “Different countries have different systems of laws, and we do not copy the systems of laws of certain Western countries when enacting the socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics.”

Then again, why should they? After a quarter-century of economic insanity under Mao, China has had an economic miracle that is nothing less than remarkable. Since Deng Xiaoping took control of the party at the end of the 1970s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has lifted more than a billion people—one-sixth of the entire world’s population—out of poverty. China’s total GDP is more than 30 times what it was in 1978. And even during the current economic situation, the Chinese people are the most optimistic in the world when it comes to their economy.

However, the CCP shouldn’t take this good fortune for granted. Progress of this speed and intensity doesn’t come without costs, and as the middle class in China continues to develop, it will see that the picture isn’t as rosy as the CCP would like it to believe.

First, with economic progress comes inequality. With more than 100 billionaires, there are still tens of millions living on less than $125 a year. These differences are accentuated based on location with the inland provinces: Henan, Gansu, and Qinghai far poorer than the buzzing metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai.

There’s also the problem of corruption. To find out just how endemic corruption is in China, all a foreigner has to do is try to get a visa within the country legitimately without paying an “agent” a few hundred dollars to kick back to the government. Although there have been a few arrests, corruption is still rampant in the government. Even Jia Qinglin, a current member of the Politburo’s elite eight-member Standing Committee, has been connected to some of China’s most notorious scandals.

These frustrations have led to a dramatic rise in mass protests throughout China and has led many, including Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, to question in which direction the government should be going. So instead of clamping down on political reforms, the CCP should embrace them. Deng Xiaoping’s quote—“To get rich is glorious”—does not have to be limited to economic wealth; the people of China deserve political riches as well.

Brad Alsup is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm