China Has Embarked Upon a Major Step Forward in its Political Reforms


The 90th birthday of the late Hu Yaobang, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. Almost one year has passed since the conference aimed at reappraising the late Mr. Hu was held at the Great Hall of the People on 18 November last year, two days before this anniversary. When the conference began, President Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, was absent, due to his participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting being held in the ROK, but Premier Wen Jiabao was the organizer of the meeting. As well as Mr. Hu’s eldest son, Hu Deping, about 300 people with deep links to Mr. Hu attended and Vice-President Zeng Qinghong read out the reappraisal document.

This goes far beyond a simple reappraisal of Hu Yaobang as an individual. It is the first step forward in reappraising the Tiananmen Square incident (4 June 1989), when people took to the streets to demand democratization, and may well represent the first indications that China is about to undergo a major transformation.

On 20 November, two days after the meeting, US President George Bush, who had participated in the APEC meeting, visited Beijing. He held strategic summit talks with key government officials, including President Hu, concerning important political issues. At that time, the reaction within Japan to the reappraisal of the late Hu Yaobang was extremely chilly and it seemed that nobody was taking it seriously. The prevailing views were along the following lines: “It is probably just a gift on the occasion of Bush’s visit to China”; “The fact that President Hu Jintao was absent is proof that the Hu Jintao regime is still not monolithic”; and “This reappraisal did not go as far as a full-scale rehabilitation of the honor [of Hu Yaobang], so the democratization of China still has not taken place.”

However, would they go so far as to run political risks in the reappraisal, just for the sake of paying lip service to President Bush?

According to a key figure in Chinese government circles, the timing of when Hu Yaobang should be reappraised has been subject to consideration and coordination ever since Hu Jintao acceded to the presidency. As opposition elements are still strong within the party core, it had not been possible to make progress with this, but now it has been possible to press the attack from all sides, “filling in the outer moat”1 by forming opinions, while also consolidating the system from the regions.

The reappraisal meeting was considerably smaller in scale than had been anticipated, but if one properly recognizes the importance of the fact that the reading of the reappraisal document was entrusted to Zeng Qinghong, who has been described as the most trusted of the inner circle of former President Jiang Zemin, one should be able to see the direction of the course that the Hu Jintao regime intends to follow in the future.

Currently, the Chinese government faces the risk that it will be crushed by the “paradox of government and economy”. It is beginning to come to the awareness that, in order to avoid this, it is vital to implement in tandem with economic reforms the political reforms on which Hu Yaobang staked his political future 16 years ago. It may well now be aiming to achieve a quiet transition from a one-party dictatorship to a “multiparty system”. If we look at Sino-Taiwanese relations from this perspective, such as the first visit to China by Taiwan’s Lien Chan, former Chairman of the Kuomintang, in April last year, and the succession of visits to the mainland by other Taiwanese officials that followed, as well as the appointment of Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou as Chairman of the Kuomintang and the landslide victory of the Kuomintang in the recent Taiwanese General Election… one cannot say that such recent political developments in Taiwan and economic incentives for Taiwan, including the abolition of tariffs on agricultural produce such as fruit, are completely unrelated to this objective.

In the future, if China adopts a multiparty system involving the Kuomintang, Sino-Taiwanese relations are likely to improve rapidly, with Sino-US relations also improving immediately as a result. In this situation, what will Japan do? It cannot only be me who thinks that the reappraisal of Hu Yaobang is an event that will have a major impact on the future of Japan; I want the new Abe administration to steer the country on a steady course.

1 Translator’s note: Filling in the outer moat was a strategy traditionally used in Japan for attacking a castle from all sides, making it easier to attack, while preventing those inside the castle from escaping.

[Translated by ERINA]