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Friday, January 2, 2009

China's year of anniversaries, selectively hailed

BENNINGTON, Vermont — The warm afterglow of the successful Beijing summer Olympics has been chilled by the cruel winds of economic malaise.

Beijing’s rulers are keenly aware that 2009 will be shadowed both by global economic downturns and by a series of anniversaries marking key chapters in the political lineage of the People’s Republic. Such anniversaries, some celebratory but others cynically revised, present the Chinese Communist Party with an unsettling political geomancy.

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First and foremost they will celebrate 1949, 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). After conquering the Mainland, Mao’s communists established the PRC on 1 October 1949. The vanquished Nationalists retrenched to the island of Taiwan, thus creating two de-facto and politically competing Chinese governments ever since. The horrible humanitarian and human rights excesses of the PRC’s first thirty years, are now but a forgotten footnote to the majority, both on the Mainland and abroad. While the early events of the People’s Republic were judged through the proletarian prism of the Maoist era, in contrast since 1978 people were increasingly enthralled by its socio/economic success.

The “reform era” cautiously initiated by Deng Xiaoping transformed China’s moribund Marxist system by allowing elements of enterprise and common sense to replace the rigid cookie cutter socialist mold forced over the Mainland since 1949. This was not, as is often perceived replacing Marxism with Markets, but actually a last ditch effort to save the People’s Republic political regime from its self-inflicted mistakes.

In December 1978, the rather innocuous sounding Third Plenum of the Communist Party of China, the focus shifted from the proletarian class struggle to the Four Modernizations.

Just a few months ago, Beijing’s Premier Wen Jiabio, addressing the United Nations, stated,” This year marks the 30th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up policy, a policy that fundamentally changed the closed, backward and ossified situation which had existed in China for years.” Yes, outsiders may know this but here is the PRC’s Premier openly admitting the failures of the CCP’s first thirty years.

Happily the law of unintended consequences and the innate entrepreneurship of the hardworking Chinese people, turned the Deng’s hesitant experiment into a whirlwind of positive economic change

Yet despite the double-digit growth, and some impressive economic developments, China today, concedes Wen Jibao, “trails behind 100 countries in terms of per capita income… development between urban and rural areas and among regions in China is unbalanced …tens of millions of Chinese lack adequate food and clothing.” Moreover there are separate estimates that the true rate of urban unemployment reached 12% in 2008 and could reach 14% in 2009 as the economy slows.

Another anniversary just concluded was the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the PRC and the United States. Though President Richard Nixon made the initial “openings” to China, it was the “human rights” President Jimmy Carter who formally, effective 1 January 1979, established Washington’s diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic, the world’s largest dictatorship.

Less a cause to celebrate for Beijing’s Marxist mandarins will be the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement which ended in bloodshed and repression. The June 4th 1989 events are particularly sensitive for the PRC as they shed unfavorable light on the “reformer” Deng Xiaoping’s other sanguinary side, and his use of classic repression to crack down on dissidence.

China's ruling Communist Party is a highly efficient political machine that drives the country's 1.3 billion people with scant regard for their welfare, a former top official has told Radio Free Asia. Bao Tong wrote from his Beijing home, where he has been under house arrest after serving a seven-year jail sentence following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. He launched a stinging attack on the “terrifying juggernaut” of China's one-Party state, saying it is capable of driving all before it and now acts entirely in its own interests.

Recently dissidents presented the Charter 08, a document signed by more than 300 intellectuals and rights activists which calls for political reform. “Of all the grass-roots movements that have happened in the past 10 years, the one most worthy of notice is the civil rights movement,” Bao said in a commentary. He stressed, “[This is] a phenomenon which is both unstoppable and impossible to hide.”

China’s President Hu Jintao begs to differ—he recently pledged to strengthen the CCP’s hand in both the economy and society as a key to national stability. Hu stressed, “by no means will we copy the western political system.” So what does 2009 hold for China?

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World
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