Thursday, November 17, 2005

One World One Dream?

Around Beijing you see the ongoing preparations for the 2008 Olympics. The sense of national pride surrounding the project is difficult to miss.

On the streets you see the posters with the slogan "One World One Dream" of the 2008 Olympics in Chinese as well as in English.

But is there really one dream in one world? The question is of the highest relevance in this period of accelerating globalisation in virtually every field.

In a speech in Kyoto at the outset of his Asian trip, President Bush has spoken about freedom and democracy in China, and pointed at the success of Taiwan in opening its political system and creating "a free and democratic Chinese society."

Although widely reported in the global and regional media, I certainly found no reference whatsoever in today's China Daily or any of the other publications I could survey either myself or with the help of Chinese friends.

You can interpret this in two different ways.

Either there isn't really one dream in this world, and speeches about freedom and democracy are utterly irrelevant in the Chinese context, or there is really one dream in this one world, and words about freedom and democracy are then truly subversive and needs to treated accordingly.

The subject is certainly difficult to avoid in different conversations around town. As impressive as the economic development of China is, as necessary is it to ask whether the rather old-fashinioned political infrastructure can hold for long.

The slogan of the day from the Communist Party leadership speaks about the need to create "a harmonious society", and to this is linked the doctrine of "the peaceful rise of China."

These theses are certainly linked to the objective needs of this country that is changing at such breathtaking speed. If this development is not harmonious, there is a risk of an acute overdose of disharmonious tendencies, and there is no doubt that this is feared by broad sectors in society.

But the tendencies that are here points towards changes and challenges in different respects in the years ahead, and there is a clear risk that one overinterprets the need for harmony into blocking any tendency towards the opening up of the political system. This, in its turn, is likely to lead to pressures building up until they can no longer be contained.

There is no shortage of difficult issues that need to be tackled. Not least how to treat the modern history of China.

Tomorrow will see a most significant small ceremony here in Beijing. It has been decided to hold a meeting to commemorate what would have been the 90th birthday of former Communist Party Secretary-General Hu Yuabang.

Hu is widely credited with handling the painful legacy of the 1966-76 cultural revolution - a truly massive tragedy for this country - while also being part of initiating the policies that paved the way for the quarter of a century of growth and change since then.

He was appointed General Secretary of the CP in 1980, oversaw the rehabilitation of thousands who had been persecuted and killed during previous political campaigns.

But his plans - as well as those of Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang - unravelled in early 1987, when Deng Xiaoping removed Hu due to his unwillingness to crack down on student protests in the winter 1986-87.

Hu died of a heart attack in April 1989, and it was the students will to honour him that set in chain the series of events that led to the erection of a Statue of Liberty on Tiananman square and eventually to the brutal supression by the army of the mass demonstrations in Beijing.

And this remains one of the forbidden topics in the China of today. Many things can be talked about - this one distinctly not.

That's why the decision to hold the ceremony tomorrow is potentially of such importance. One can be certain that it is the result if serious deliberations in the highest party leadership. It will in all probability be small, heavily controlled and very sparsely reported in the media.

And the reason is simple: their nightmare is that the dream that was there among the students erecting their Statue of Liberty in the hearth of Beijing will come alive again.

But the step is significant in spite of this.

Meanwhile, the opening up of China towards the rest of the world continues.

The years to come will show whether there is really one dream in this one world of our age. - Bush pushes China over freedoms - Nov 15, 2005