Thursday, April 28, 2005

Whither Hu?

(Because "Who's Hu" would have gotten me beaten up.)

It's looking more and more like President of China Hu Jintao, despite the early mantle of agrarian reformer, is more of a hardliner than early optimists had believed. I've defended Hu myself on occasion, because I believed he was attempting to manage a delicate power transition. I'm still not totally sure I'm wrong, but the evidence is not in my favour:
More than two years after taking office amid uncertainty about his political views, President Hu Jintao is emerging as an unyielding leader determined to preserve the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power and willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties to do it, according to party officials, journalists and analysts.

Some say Hu has cast himself as a hard-liner to consolidate his position after a delicate leadership transition and could still lead the party in a more open direction. There is a growing consensus inside and outside the government, however, that the 62-year-old former engineer believes the party should strengthen its rule by improving its traditional mechanisms of governance, not by introducing democratic reforms.
The more interesting question is why Hu is doing this. I don't believe he's a committed hardliner - my guess (and that's all it is) is that he is alarmed by the increasing social unrest in China, and is trying to keep a lid on things. We have to remember that the Communists aren't moustache-twirling bad guys - they sincerely believe they're the defenders of Chinese national integrity. Mao really did end the period of warlordism far more effectively than any previous ruler since the early Manchu Dynasty, and the modern Communists remember that.

Obviously, I don't want to defend or condone oppression, but Hu has got to be scared at the turn Chinese politics have taken in the last few years. When autocrats get scared, you can guess how bad it can get.

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