Likely power shift delays political reform in China
The Washington Times
By Winter Casey

China’s experiment with democracy at the village level is on hold pending a change in the Chinese leadership this year, China scholars told a congressional panel this week.

“This is not a time when commitment for reform and innovation will take place,” said Elizabeth Dugan, director of Asia programs at the International Republican Institute.

Ms. Dugan made her remarks at a meeting Tuesday sponsored by the Congressional Executive Commission on China to discuss village elections in China and the means for countries such as the United States to get involved.

China has been holding village-level elections in various parts of the country.

But political reforms are likely to be delayed until the Chinese Communist Party holds its 16th Congress in October. Several leadership changes are likely to be announced.

Vice President Hu Jintao is expected to succeed Jiang Zemin as Chinese president and Communist Party general secretary.

The congressional commission, created in October 2000, includes lawmakers and administration officials as members.

It monitors human rights and democratic development in China and reports annually to Congress and the president. The recommendations for this year are expected to be issued in October.

The International Republican Institute has been observing grassroots elections in China since 1994.

In May, the group began a study of urban community elections in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Ms. Dugan said the elections in that region were among the most advanced and democratic in China “due to the strong commitment of local leaders to the principles of accountability, transparency and the rule of law.”

The Chinese government’s continuing commitment to village elections offers the United States “a rare opportunity to cooperate with China in a positive way in their long-term, albeit uncertain, political evolution,” said Anne Thruston, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

The scholars, however, reiterated that the United States and other Western governments must exercise caution when encouraging democracy within China.

Imposing Western values on China without considering its unique circumstances is counterproductive, said Liu Yawei, associate director of the China Village Elections Project at the Carter Center.

“Ignoring China altogether in its cautious, and sometimes confusing, quest for democratization…is outright erroneous,” he said.

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