Late China Party Chief’s Son Urges Reform Before Power Shift

The son of China’s late Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang called on leaders of the world’s most populous nation to pursue political and economic changes as they prepare for a once-a-decade transfer of power.

“Reforms cannot be wasted, promises cannot be abandoned,” Hu Deping wrote in a commentary in the Economic Observer, a Beijing-based newspaper, on Nov. 3. China’s problems threaten the nation’s healthy development, violate people’s rights and undermine the party’s ability to govern, he wrote.

Hu’s call was made on the eve of a leadership transition that will probably see Xi Jinping replace Hu Jintao as general secretary of the party that’s ruled China since 1949. The so-called fifth generation who will take charge of the country face slowing economic growth, an aging population and more protests against corruption and social issues such as environmental degradation.

“There is huge debate and disagreement among the political and economic elite about how to deal with the enormous difficulties and challenges facing the country,” said Ding Xueliang, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who teaches contemporary Chinese politics. “Different groups and different interests inside the party are all trying to voice their concerns and make proposals before the Congress.”

Top Leadership

Hu’s is the strongest voice among liberals in the country and part of a group inside the system with access to the top leadership, Ding said. Hu Deping wrote in his capacity as a member of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group to the country’s legislature.

Hu Yaobang’s death helped to trigger the Tiananmen Square protests, as crowds gathered to commemorate his death in April 1989. Hu, who had been removed as the party’s general secretary in 1987 and replaced by Zhao Ziyang, had clashed with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping over political opening, Zhao recalled in his memoirs.

“When he was General Secretary, whenever social problems emerged, including demonstrations, he always advocated the principle of reducing tensions and opposing heavy-handed measures,” Zhao wrote of Hu in “Prisoner of the State,” published in 2009.

Rising Discontent

Public discontent was rising with a surge in inflation in 1988, leading to panic buying, as well as increasing frustration over the lack of political reform, Zhao wrote. Hu’s death on April 15, 1989, “provided a chance to express this discontent,” Zhao wrote.

Zhao, who died in 2005, was removed from his post as the party’s general secretary in June 1989, after he sympathized with the student movement, which was crushed by soldiers and tanks on June 4.

The Communist Party starts its 18th Congress in Beijing on Nov. 8, when 2,270 delegates will begin meeting over several days to decide on changes to the organization’s top leadership. The Politburo Standing Committee, the highest ruling body in the party, currently has nine members including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who will retire. Xi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who Ding expects to become premier, are also members.

China began a probe of Wen’s family wealth at his request after the New York Times reported his relatives had amassed at least $2.7 billion of assets, the South China Morning Post reported today, citing unidentified people. Conservative party elders who dislike Wen’s more liberal stance have called on him to explain the New York Times’s reporting, the South China Morning Post said, citing the people.

Weakest Growth

China’s new leaders are poised to inherit the weakest economic growth since 1999, with expansion of 7.7 percent this year, according to the median estimate of 45 analysts in a Bloomberg News survey carried out from Oct. 18 to Oct. 22.

The party and the nation face two fundamental issues, Hu wrote in the newspaper.

“The first is its determination to push ahead with reform and opening-up including its economic system and its political system while the second is how to further implement socialist constitutional government and rule of law,” he said.

On the economy, Hu said the monopoly of state-owned enterprises must be broken up and the social security system must ensure the old, the young and the sick are provided for.

‘Create Conditions’

“We need to create conditions to let private enterprises enter monopoly industries, encourage fair and lawful competition, create and regulate open and fair markets,” he wrote.

Hu also said the party’s unchecked power had resulted in political interference in the judicial system and serious violations of people’s rights that are protected by the nation’s constitution.

The commentary is “a sort of subliminal campaigning,” said Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat in Beijing who is now a professor at the University of Sydney. “A lot is still up for grabs and people want to get their say in just in case it can influence the whole process.”

In the runup to the meeting, former President Jiang Zemin made several public appearances, signaling his involvement in negotiations over who will run China for the next decade, according to analysts including John Lee of the University of Sydney.

— With assistance by Nerys Avery

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