In a remarkable farewell speech delivered live on national television and the Bo Xi Lai controversy neared a climax, China’s outgoing Premier, Wen Jiabao, issued a call for liberal reform that will reverberate throughout the country. The Premier even went so far as to invoke the specter of Mao’s devastating Cultural Revolution, suggesting that a similar disaster looms on the horizon if China’s next generation of leaders fail to adequately address serious political and economic challenges.The Financial Times has some of the relevant quotes:
- “Without successful political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform and the gains we have made in this area may be lost”;
- “The democratic system of China will continue to move forward in keeping with China’s national conditions and no force will be able to hold this process back”;
- “New problems that have cropped up in Chinese society will not be fundamentally resolved and such a historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again”.
The internal dynamics of the Chinese Communist Party are opaque at the best of the times, and it is impossible for an outsider to ever truly understand what is going on. What is clear is that something more serious than normal is happening in China. The stresses and strains of the huge and transformative changes working their way through this complicated country can’t help but be felt even at the top. Wen would not be using language this dramatic without good cause.Along with his calls for political reform, Wen’s speech last week took the unusual step of publicly criticizing fellow Party members, including an apparent attack on the soon-to-be-ousted Bo Xilai. While it is impossible to understand the full scope of what is going on, there are obviously major differences within China’s ruling elite on how to approach the political, economic and social problems Wen alluded to in his speech.The emergence of crises in China, and the political struggles that break out as the elite struggles to manage this increasingly volatile land will be shaping not just Chinese but world history in the weeks, months and years to come.