Bowing out with distinction

Prime Minister Wen JiabaoWhat was most amazing, to Westerners at least (and perhaps to the Chinese people), was that his comments were broadcast live on official China TV. After all, his official observations weren’t exactly pretty.

Here is the back-story:

In every historical movement and moment, there are good guys (good ladies, too) and bad. But they often come in shades of gray, making it difficult to sort them out. That is probably precisely the case with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. After all, for years he has been nothing less than the number two (behind impassive-faced President Hu Jintao) of a regime rated, certainly by the West, as relentlessly repressive. And he has been in office long enough to speak out forcefully long before this.

But in many places  — including Hong Kong and on the mainland as well — they tend to call him Uncle Wen, with genuine affection.And there is good reason for the emotion: No one at the top of either the Communist Party or the government of China has seemed more in tune than Uncle Wen with the anxieties of the Chinese people — especially their need for reassurance that top leaders really do know (and care) about what is happening in the lives of regular folk down below.

China’s legislature meets only a few days every year and is routinely dismissed by the Western media as “a runner stamp parliament.” That characterisation is too simplistic. At the very least, the NPC offers — like some huge annual US corporate retreat  — invaluable moments for group reflection and significant consensus building. In fact, Uncle Wen used the NPC occasion to try to raise the governing elite’s consciousness about the pressing need to continue political reform. He even evoked fears of a return to a new dark ‘Cultural Revolution’, if reform should slow down.

What he meant in invoking memories of that dark and horrible period (1966-76) in history was that the current social stability cannot be taken for granted. For all the immensely impressive economic achievements, the development of China’s polity has not kept pace in levels of effectiveness. As a result, China struggles with basic contemporary issues and challenges, such as Internet access and web communication, that other Chinese societies (Singapore comes to mind, Taiwan, too) have more or less successfully resolved.

China’s current leadership has begun the process of handing over the reigns of power to the next generational level of ambitious and accomplished leaders. But lurking in the wings are conservatives who would turn the clock back to extreme central rule, in opposition to modernisers who insist China requires a more nuanced political system.

Just as in America, the changing of the guard takes some time. There will be a lot of jostling and some internal mess, though there are no political primaries, fund-raising events and god-awful candidate “debates” to have to endure.

That’s because China’s political system features but one political party. There was no reason for Wen Jiabao to over-dramatise China’s dilemma. He is a serious man. People respect his views. Clearly he was not just crying uncle. His speech may just prove the most important ever broadcast on China TV. – Khaleejnews